African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

David Lloyd-Jones

David Lloyd-Jones


I am a behavioural ecologist, ornithologist and PhD student at the FitzPatrick Institute for African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. I grew up in southern Tanzania and this biodiverse setting nurtured my passion for natural history and field research. I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. During this period, I became fascinated in avian brood parasitism, co-evolutionary interactions and avian communication and I have conducted research exploring these topics. After returning to East Africa I worked on biodiversity surveys and aerial surveys of large mammals, while also keeping bees and experimenting with beekeeping techniques.

In 2016 I first went to northern Mozambique’s stunning Niassa Special Reserve for work on an aerial survey. In 2017 I returned to working there – in collaboration with Prof. Claire Spottiswoode – to study the remarkable mutualism between human honey-hunters and the greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator). I have been involved in honeyguide research since then and continue to be inspired by complex species interactions and the challenge of studying them using field experiments. It continues to be a profound privilege spending extended time with people who coexist alongside wildlife inside Niassa’s vast wilderness.

Research focus

My current focus is on the ecology and economics of human-honeyguide cooperation and in particular, gaining a better understanding of the foraging behaviour and decision-making of both honeyguides and human honey-hunters at the population level. More specifically, I am looking at how the mutualism shifts the costs and benefits of honey-hunting, using spatial data for humans and measuring the rewards (wax, honey) for both parties. I am also testing whether honeyguides learn to recognise cheating honey-hunters, and whether they punish them?

With the help of a honey-hunting community I am collecting a wide range of data on natural honey-hunting journeys and their payoffs. I am trying to discover whether humans learn to recognise unskilled honeyguides, and whether they avoid them? I am also investigating questions relating to honeyguide-human communication, and the ecosystem effects of honey-hunting at a landscape level. Our multi-year dataset enables us to ask how honeyguides change human movement and foraging patterns.

Peer-reviewed publications


David presents at the Apimondia Africa Symposium

David Lloyd-Jones recently gave a talk on what honeyguides and honey-hunters have taught us about Niassa’s wild honeybee ecology at the Apimondia Africa Regional Symposium held in Durban. He was honoured to pay further tribute to Ricardo Guta and his contribution to bee research in Niassa Special Reserve. Many...

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In memory of our colleague Ricardo Guta

Ricardo Guta, our dear colleague and friend in our research team, tragically died on 1 December 2022 following a swimming accident in the Cape mountains. All our thoughts are with his wife, Lailat, and their children Adrielle and Piotr. Ricardo’s life was honoured by his colleagues in a memorial at the University of Cape Town on 9 December 2022. He will soon be laid to rest by his family in his home city of Beira, Mozambique.

Ricardo’s warm and generous personality and passion for natural history touched everyone he met. He was much loved and respected at Gorongosa National Park where he worked as an entomologist, at the University of Cape Town where he had just completed his MSc studies, and at the Niassa Special Reserve where we recently carried out a wonderful field trip together. Ricardo had just begun his PhD in our research team, studying the influence of honeyguide-human mutualism on honeybee ecology. We are heartbroken to have lost a wonderful scientist, conservationist and human being, and we miss him deeply.

Ricardo’s legacy will live on in our team as we remember his joy and optimism, and his remarkable capacity to bring people together.

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