African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

Daniella Mhangwana

Daniella Mhangwana


I have spent my life looking towards nature and being in awe of its wonder. I grew up living in a small town in Namaqualand where collecting shells on the bank of the orange river and going camping allowed me to cultivate my love for nature. At a young age I became slightly obsessed with the protection of the environment by becoming a vegetarian and advocating for the introduction of recycling facilities at my high school. To further my reach in the environmental sphere I decided to study environmental and geographical science at UCT as well as biology which would give me further insight into functioning of the system I was determined to protect. I have a particular interest in conservation biology and the interaction with humans and the natural environment. I finished my undergrad with these majors and continued into my honours in Biology. However I persisted in the field of sustainability practices and environmental activism by becoming the head of the Green Campus Initiative which aims to make the institution more environmentally friendly.  


Research focus

Throughout my academic career there have been a myriad of subjects that have interested me and occupied most of my time. For the last two years, I have been focussed on birds and more specifically the African Honeyguide. I had attended a research trip in the beginning of third year where I had met this bird for the first time led by Claire Spottiswoode and my other two current supervisors Celiwe Ngcamphalala and Jessica van der Wal and it drove me to read up, increase my bird ringing skills and engage in my very own honeyguide research project. I am currently doing my honours on the question of which other birds outside of honeyguides can consume beeswax. It has been thought that honeyguides are unique among terrestrial birds in being able to consume and digest beeswax, but recent field observations call this into questions. I am analysing several years of camera trap data to ask which species besides honeyguides eat beeswax, and conducting a phylogenetically controlled analysis to test what ecological traits predict wax-eating.




    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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