African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

Out now: a paper on beeswax-eating animals and what this means for honeyguides

Dec 1, 2022

Honey badger eating wax

We are delighted to have a new paper on wax-eating behaviour by honeyguides and other animals published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In this study we used camera traps to investigate which animals, other than honeyguides, fed on wax made available from the human-honeyguide mutualism, and whether larger animals feeding on this unusual food undermined the mutualism by depriving the honeyguide of its reward. Our camera trapping revealed nine wax-eating species, five of which were not previously known to consume wax. We expected that these wax-competitors could negatively affect wax availability for honeyguides, but instead found that these competitors likely stabilize the mutualism by shifting the benefits toward the early-arriving or guiding birds. A video abstract including clips of wax-eating behaviour is available on Youtube, and further media coverage can be found at New Scientist. We are also thrilled for our co-author, honey-hunter and long-term collaborator from Mbamba village, Orlando Yassene, as this is his first publication.


Honey-hunting Research Network workshop

The Honey-hunting Research Network (coordinated by Jessica van der Wal) met in Cape Town for a very enjoyable week of analysing and comparing interview data from honey-hunting cultures across Africa, painting a picture of the human cultural variation relevant to honeyguides, and its uncertain future on a rapidly changing continent. Joining in person were Wiro-Bless Kamboe, Rochelle Mphetlhe, George M’manga, Sanele Nhlabatsi, Daniella Mhangwana, Celiwe Ngcamphalala, Claire Spottiswoode and Jessica van der Wal. Thank you to the Cultural Evolution Society Transformation Fund for funding our get-together!

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New paper on human-honeyguide cooperation and communication

A new study from the Honeyguide Research Project shows that Greater Honeyguides learn the distinct calls that honey-hunters in different parts of Africa use to communicate with them, facilitating cooperation between species. Human honey-hunters signal to honeyguides using specialised calls that vary culturally across Africa. The new study shows using field experiments in Mozambique and Tanzania that honeyguides prefer the specialised calls of the local human culture they interact with, compared to those of a foreign culture. This implies that honeyguides can adjust to human cultural diversity, increasing the benefits of cooperation for both people and birds.

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