Long before the discovery of the first planet beyond our solar system, astronomer Laurance Doyle began theorizing about the habitability of planets around other stars, clarifying the conditions needed for a planet to bear life. Relying on his expertise in signal processing, he now looks for patterns in astronomical data, searching for extrasolar planets.
Recently, Doyle has begun using these same statistical tools to look for patterns in animal communication. Drawing on central concepts of information theory, he and colleagues from the University of California at Davis have precisely measured the complexity of the songs of humpback whales, comparing them with communication in other species—including humans. In the future, he plans to expand this innovative line of research, moving to the next level of understanding animal communication. Not content to understand how much an animal can communicate, he seeks to understand the meaning of the vocalizations of other species.