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), that lead them to wild bees’ nests. 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

Torney, C.J.*, Lloyd-Jones, D.J.*, Chevallier, M., Moyer, D.C., Maliti, H.T., Mwita, M., Kohi, E.M. & Hopcraft, G.C. 2019 A comparison of deep learning and citizen science techniques for counting wildlife in aerial survey imagesMethods in Ecology and Evolution 10: 779-787

*equal contributors

Torney CJ, Dobson AP, Borner F, Lloyd-Jones DJ, Moyer D, et al. (2016), Assessing rotation-Invariant feature classification for automated wildebeest population countsPlos One 11: e0156342.

Lloyd-Jones, D.J. & Briskie, J.V. 2016 Mutual wattle ornaments in the South Island saddleback (Philesturnus carunculatus) function as armamentsEthology 122: 61-71. 

Khwaja, N. & Lloyd-Jones, D.J. 2015 Eurasian blackbird (Turdus merula) nest parasitised by song thrush (T. philomelos)Notornis 62: 41-44.

Lloyd-Jones, D.J. 2014 Ultrasonic harmonics in the calls of rock wren (Xenicus gilviventris). Nortornis 61: 165-169.


New collaborative paper on honeyguide-human cooperation in Kenya

In a new paper in Frontiers in Conservation Science in collaboration with Isa Gedi, we report on the honey-hunting culture with greater honeyguides of the Awer people in Kenya. Awer honey-hunters depend on wild honey as a source of income, and readily seek the cooperation of honeyguides. To attract honeyguides, they whistle on the shell of a Giant African Land Snail. We thank the interviewees for sharing their honey-hunting culture with us.

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Laltaika awarded a Distinction for his MSc dissertation

Warmest congratulations to Eliupendo Laltaika, whose MSc research dissertation “Understanding the mutualistic interaction between greater honeyguides and four co-existing human cultures in northern Tanzania” was awarded with Distinction. Laltaika will graduate with an MSc in Conservation Biology from the University of Cape Town in December, and will rejoin the Honeyguide Research Project team as a PhD student from 2022. The image shows Laltaika interviewing a Ndorobo honey-hunter in September 2020, as part of his research on the honey-hunting cultures of Maasai, Sonjo, Hadzabe and Ndorobo communities in Tanzania.

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Honours students Rion Cuthill and Cameron Blair complete projects

Congratulations to Rion Cuthill and Cameron Blair for successfully finalising their University of Cape Town Honours research dissertations hosted by our project. Rion’s thesis was titled ‘Where there is smoke, is there fire? The role of the honeyguide-human mutualism in African savannah fire ecology’ and supervised by Claire Spottiswoode and Sally Archibald. Cameron’s thesis was titled ‘Does the remarkable guiding call of the Greater Honeyguide develop from its begging call?’ and supervised Claire Spottiswoode and Jessica van der Wal.

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