Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Simon Townsend, PhD (Associate Professor)

 Simon Townsend



I am interested in the complexity underlying vocal communication and cognition in animals. By taking a broad comparative approach focusing on both primate, non-primate mammals and birds (meerkats, wolves, vervet monkeys, chimpanzees, pied babblers, chestnut-crowned babblers) in the wild and captivity, we aim to unpack the similarities and differences between animal and human communication and ultimately what selective conditions might have been responsible for the evolution of the human language faculty.

Research themes:

Comparative psychology, comparative linguistics, language evolution, syntax, phonology, semantics, animal behaviour, animal cognition, primates, non-primate mammals and birds.

Contact Details

Representative Publications:

  • Wilke, C., Lahiff, N. J., Sabbi, K. H., Watts, D. P., Townsend, S. W., & Slocombe, K. E. (2022). Declarative referential gesturing in a wild chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(47), e2206486119.

  • Jorgewich-Cohen, G., Townsend, S. W., Padovese, L. R., Klein, N., Praschag, P., Ferrara, C. R., ... & Sánchez-Villagra, M. R. (2022). Common evolutionary origin of acoustic communication in choanate vertebrates. Nature Communications, 13(1), 6089.

  • Mine, J. G., Slocombe, K. E., Willems, E. P., Gilby, I. C., Yu, M., Thompson, M. E., Townsend, S.W. & Machanda, Z. P. (2022).Vocal signals facilitate cooperative hunting in wild chimpanzees. Science advances, 8(30), eabo5553.

  • Collier, K., Radford, A. N., Stoll, S., Watson, S. K., Manser, M. B., Bickel, B. & Townsend, S. W. (2020). Dwarf mongoose alarm calls: investigating a complex non-human animal call. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 287(1935), 20192514.

  • Townsend, S.W., Engesser, S., Stoll, S., Zuberbühler, K. & Bickel, B. (2018). Compositionality in animals and humans. PLoS Biology 16(8):e2006425.

  • Engesser, S., Ridley, A.R., Manser, M.B., Manser, A. & Townsend, S.W. (2018). Internal acoustic structuring in pied babbler recruitment cries specifies the form of recruitment. Behavioral Ecology doi:10.1093/beheco/ary088.

  • Townsend, S.W., Koski, S.E., Byrne, R.W., Bickel, B., Böckle, M., Burkart, J.M., Flower, T., Gaunet, F., Glock, H.J., Goncalves, I.D.B., Gruber, T., Jansen, D.A.W.A.M., Liebal, K., Linke, A., Miklosi, Moore, R., van Schaik, C., Slocombe, K.E., Stoll, S., Vail, A., Wild, M., Waller, B., Zuberbühler, K. & Manser, M. B. (2017). Exorcising Grice’s ghost: an empirical approach to studying intentional communication in animals. Biological Reviews, 92, 1427-1433.

Download open access versions of publications