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



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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