Martin Whiting

In the early days, noosing flat lizards in South Africa.

In the early days, noosing flat lizards in South Africa.

In my dessert days, noosing toad-headed agamas in the Tukai Desert, China, 2012.

In the not so early days, noosing toad-headed agamas, Tukai Desert, China, 2012.

The place where there is natural selection on beer drinking.

The place where there is natural selection on beer drinking.



Martin Whiting | Associate Professor
Department of Biological Sciences | Division of Brain, Behaviour and Evolution
Macquarie University | Sydney, NSW 2109 | Australia

I’m best contacted by e-mail, but here are my complete contact details.

PDFs of papers can be downloaded by clicking below on ResearchGate or Publications

Martin J. Whiting

Publications list

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Martin Whiting’s collaboration network

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ORCID QR code for Martin Whiting’s ORCID account

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Martin Whiting’s Google Scholar profile


See a map of my collaboration network and a separate map of where I do my field work.

Find out more about animal behaviour at Macquarie and the Department of Biological Sciences.

My research

I am a behavioural ecologist that uses lizards as a model system. I am primarily a field biologist, although increasingly I find myself in the’ lab’. I have had the good fortune to conduct field work in North America (Texas), a number of southern African countries, Kenya, Hawai’i, Sri Lanka, China and Australia. I work in these three main areas: 1.) animal communication and sexual selection; 2.) cognition; and 3.) understanding the early evolution of sociality in vertebrates.

In the context of animal communication, my interest lies in the design and information content of animal signals, particularly colour signals, and their role in fitness. For example, we may ask what information a male’s colour signal conveys about their quality to a female or about their competitive ability to a rival male. Similarly, we also work on male chemical signals and their role in sexual selection. Recently, we have been working on colour signals that are naturally selected and which appear to act as a flash signal to a predator. Flash signals are almost completely unstudied in lizards. We have identified flash signals in independently evolved lizard clades in Africa, Asia and Australia that have high UV reflectance and are working to understand the proximate and ultimate factors that may be driving convergent evolution of signal design. We are also working on the evolution of complex, dynamic tail waving in Australian dragons and Asian toad-headed agamas. In these systems, we are taking a comparative approach to understanding how elements of courtship and display behaviour have evolved as a result of phylogeny and/or environmental factors.

A second theme in my lab is cognition and brain size evolution. We are investigating aspects of cognition such as spatial learning and whether this links to alternate reproductive tactics and personality in water skinks (Eulamprus quoyii). We also ask whether cognitive ability is domain-specific or general. In other words, do lizards that perform well in a one cognitive domain such as a spatial task also perform well in an unrelated cognitive area such as an instrumental task. This is a key question in cognitive ecology, which we are also addressing in Australian cane toads. Cane toads provide another unique opportunity: to study the role of cognition in a highly successful invasive species in which some individuals are more prone to dispersal than others. We are currently testing hypotheses about cognitive ability as they relate to dispersal, by testing cognition in a range of tasks in toads from the invasion front and the invasion source. Another major focus is testing the social intelligence hypothesis for the evolution of large brain size. This is a large-scale project taking a comparative approach to testing whether social factors have driven brain size evolution in the the lizard genus Egernia. Egernia are a novel system for examining how sociality may have acted on brain size because they live in multi-generational family groups and represent an alternative to previously studied mammal and bird models.

Finally, we are using the family-dwelling, social Australian Egernia-Liopholis clade as a model system for uncovering the mechanisms that might have driven the early evolution of monogamy and sociality. Ultimately, we are interested in investigating the possibility of a general theory for the evolution of vertebrate sociality. Variation in social behaviour and social organisation in lizard systems are therefore of great interest.

This amazing cartoon was made by the very talented Fonti Kar!

This amazing cartoon was made by the very talented Fonti Kar!