Yen Yi Loo

BSc(Hons) Environmental Science (University of Nottingham, Malaysia); MSc Bird Conservation (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)

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Doctoral Candidate - Doctor of Philosophy


I am a PhD candidate investigating the vocal learning ability of a New Zealand wren, the rifleman or tītipounamu (Acanthisitta chloris), using bioacoustics and behaviour observations to understand the evolutionary history of vocal learning in birds. Songbirds have long been used as a model for the human language learning system. However, the literature focuses on the mechanism and less so on the evolutionary aspects of vocal learning.

The recent and dramatic re-ordering of the avian phylogenetic tree has challenged many past assumptions on the evolutionary histories of birds. Among the most interesting is the evolution of vocal learning, which is thought to have evolved independently in parrots and songbirds. However, in the new avian family tree, parrots and songbirds share a common ancestor. This has generated a new, alternative hypothesis indicating that vocal learning evolved in the common ancestor of parrots and songbirds. A key group for addressing this question is the New Zealand wrens. For decades they were assumed to be non-learners. However, in the new phylogeny they are the common link between the parrots and songbirds. This unique position of the NZ wrens as the only extant members of the most basal passerine in the world suggests that a deep investigation of the vocal learning abilities of these species is required. To date, knowledge of the vocal learning of this group has been largely unexplored.

The aspects I am interested in are the development patterns and times, sex differences, functions and female preferences of vocalisations. The information on suboscine acoustics is limited compared to their counterpart, the oscines or songbirds. My research seeks to trigger more research interest in the unexplored aspects of vocal learning integrating knowledge from both the oscines and suboscines.

Research | Current

Understanding the origin of vocal learning in birds using New Zealand’s missing link, the rifleman or tītipounamu.

Postgraduate supervision

My supervisors:

Dr. Kristal Cain

Dr. Margaret Stanley


Demonstrator - BIOSCI 337: Animal Behaviour

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Tan, C. K. W., Woei Lee, J., Hii, A., Loo, Y. Y., Campos-Arceiz, A., & Macdonald, D. W. (2018). The effect of using games in teaching conservation. PeerJ, 6, e4509-e4509. 10.7717/peerj.4509
  • Loo, Y. Y., Billa, L., & Singh, A. (2015). Effect of climate change on seasonal monsoon in Asia and its impact on the variability of monsoon rainfall in Southeast Asia. Geoscience Frontiers, 6 (6), 817-823. 10.1016/j.gsf.2014.02.009