African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

Dr Dominic Cram

Dominic Cram


My research investigates cooperation in the natural world, with an emphasis on how cooperating impacts health and ageing. I have worked on several wild bird and mammal species and study a range of markers of animal health, including oxidative damage, antioxidant protection, and telomere length analysis. My PhD research with white-browed sparrow weavers demonstrated that the physiological costs of rearing young fall heaviest on those that breed most, but that these costs can be mitigated by cooperative sharing of workloads. In my first post-doctoral position, I showed that social dominance in cooperative groups of Kalahari meerkats is not associated with specialised slow ageing trajectories, and that sibling rivalries can accelerate ageing even in new-born pups.

Research focus

My current focus is on the honeyguide’s contribution to the mutualistic foraging partnership with humans. After a successful harvest, the grateful honey-hunter typically leaves a piece of beeswax to reward the bird that guided them to the bees. However, our observations indicate that other honeyguides often eat this wax. If honeyguides can steal wax without guiding, how is the mutualism maintained? Which individual honeyguides cooperate with human honey-hunters, and which instead try to ‘scrounge’ a free meal? Are some honeyguides better guides than others? Do honeyguides that cooperate have access to more beeswax?

To address these questions, I have established a ringed population of honeyguides which allows us to collect individual-based data on decisions to guide or scrounge, guiding outcomes, and wax consumption. I am combining observational and experimental field data with laboratory analyses including stable isotope diet reconstruction and telomere length analysis.

Selected recent publications:

(Please see Google Scholar for a full publication list)



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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