African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

Dr Jessica E.M. van der Wal

Jessica van der Wal

Biography

I am a behavioural ecologist intrigued by the profound variation in how different species specialise on resources. For my PhD at the University of St Andrews, I studied the foraging ecology of tool use in New Caledonian crows, under the supervision of Christian Rutz. Following my PhD, I held a researcher position at Sovon Dutch Centre of Field Ornithology, followed by a short postdoc on individual strategies in birds and humans, in collaboration with Dr Rose Thorogood at the University of Helsinki. I thoroughly enjoy fieldwork in remote locations, especially when taking pioneering steps towards making new discoveries about little-understood species. I also take great pleasure in working alongside the resident communities and in doing so incorporating their social values and the associated logistics of the local environment into the research plan. I joined the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology in March 2019, on a UCT Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.

Research focus

I research the ecology and evolution of the remarkable mutualism between human honey-hunters and greater honeyguides. Among the remaining parts of Africa where this mutualism still exists, there is substantial geographical variation in the behaviour and calls honey-hunters use to attract honeyguides to lead them to bee nests. I am interested in mapping the mosaic of mutualism between honeyguides and humans, by investigating the variation in human honey-hunting cultures, and understanding how the birds must adjust and the underlying learning process involved. I employ an interdisciplinary approach to address my research questions, integrating ideas and methodologies from a variety of academic disciplines such as biology, anthropology, linguistics, as well as citizen science.

Peer-reviewed publications:

St Clair, J., Klump, B.C., van der Wal, J.E.M., Sugasawa, S. & Rutz, C. 2016 Strong between-site variation in New Caledonian crows’ use of hook-tool-making materials. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 118: 226-232.

Rutz, C., Sugasawa, S., van der Wal, J.E.M., Klump, B.C. & St Clair, J. 2016 Tool bending in New Caledonian crows. Royal Society Open Science 3: 160439.

Klump, B.C., van der Wal, J.E.M, St Clair, J. & Rutz, C. 2015 Context-dependent ‘safekeeping’ of foraging tools in New Caledonian crows. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282: 20150278.

van der Wal, J.E.M., Dorenbosch, M., Immers, A.K., Vidal Forteza, C., Geurts, J.J., Peeters, E.T., Koese, B. & Bakker, E.S. 2013 Invasive crayfish threaten the development of submerged macrophytes in lake restoration. PLoS One 8: e78579.

News

Laltaika honoured as a Top 100 Young African Conservation Leader

Wonderful news: Eliupendo Alaitetei Laltaika has been selected for the inaugural Top 100 Young African Conservation Leaders list announced today, celebrating those whose work “promises to leave a lasting impression in the African conservation landscape”. Congratulations, Laltaika – we’re proud to be your colleagues!

Laltaika’s citation reads, “A lion hunter as a young pastoralist turned conservationist, Eliupendo now protects the endangered rhino population of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as a Park Ranger. He has rescued 20 wild dogs from retaliation, killing and planted over 30,000 plants via conservation clubs. He is also researching the extraordinary cooperative relationship between honeyguide birds and human honey hunters. He founded the Ngorongoro Biodiversity Conservation Project.”

Please visit https://top100youth.africa to meet 99 other inspiring young conservation leaders from throughout the continent.

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Workshop on “Human-Wildlife Mutualisms”

Together with Natalie Uomini at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, we hosted a two-day online workshop on “Human-Wildlife Mutualisms”. We were joined by 40 colleagues from 14 countries to share experiences and findings, and improve our understanding of what is known about these unique partnerships. We were delighted to meet colleagues with shared interests including anthropologists, historians, conservation practitioners, and honey-hunters, as well as fellow biologists such as our colleagues in Brazil who study the fascinating cooperative partnership between fishers and bottlenose dolphins. David, Dom, Jessica, Laltaika and Claire all presented talks on our honeyguide research in Mozambique and Tanzania, as did our close collaborators Brian Wood and Anne Kandler. Several additional honey-hunter colleagues and a fisher from Brazil participated via subtitled videos.

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David returns to Niassa

David Lloyd-Jones was reunited with our main study population of honeyguides, and colleagues in the field at the Mariri Environmental Centre in the Niassa Special Reserve, when a brief visit to Mozambique became possible. After a three-day motorbike ride from his home base in Tanzania, David met with our honey-hunter colleagues and repaired their equipment, and checked in our study area which was looking lush and green in the early rainy season. This is a time of year when food supplies are low in the village, and many of our honey-hunter colleagues are busy tending to their crops whilst only going on the occasional honey-hunt.

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