I am an evolutionary biologist and passionate naturalist with a particular interest in the ecology, evolution and conservation of species interactions. I run two long-term field projects on African birds: one in southern Zambia focusing on coevolution between brood-parasitic birds (such as cuckoos, honeyguides and parasitic finches) and the hosts that they exploit to raise their young, and one in northern Mozambique (since 2013), on the topic of this website: the mutually beneficial interactions between honeyguides and the human honey-hunters with whom they cooperate to gain access to bees’ nests. Aside from parasitism and mutualism, I’m widely interested in ecology, evolution, ornithology and conservation, and have also worked on avian sociality, life-history evolution, pollination, sexual selection, nest camouflage, migration, and the conservation ecology of threatened species in the Horn of Africa and northern Mozambique. I work partly in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, where I am a Principal Research Associate, and partly at the University of Cape Town, where I am Pola Pasvolsky Chair in Conservation Biology at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Most of my work is inspired by natural history, and I strongly believe in the value of field experiments.
Our honeyguide research project began in 2013, thanks to a chance meeting in the northern Mozambican bush with Keith Begg of the Niassa Carnivore Project. Keith showed me that here, in the Niassa Special Reserve, the remarkable relationship between honeyguides and humans still thrives. Our initial research focus was on communication, showing experimentally that not only do humans understand the signals that honeyguides use to show them bees’ nests, but honeyguides, too, understand the specialised signals that honey-hunters give to advertise to honeyguides that they are seeking their help. This inspired the programme of work we are now carrying out as a team, with the wonderful support of the European Research Council, and in close collaboration with honey-hunting communities and interdisciplinary colleagues from several fields.
For more information on our research on the other side of honeyguides’ lives, as cuckoo-like brood parasites of other birds, please visit our sister project in Zambia at www.africancuckoos.com.
Selected recent publications:
(Please see Google Scholar for a full publication list)
- van der Wal, J.E.M., Afan, A.I., Anyawire, M., Begg, C.M., Begg, K.S., Dabo, G.A., Gedi, I.I., Harris, J.A., Isack, H.A., Ibrahim, J.I., Jamie, G.A., Kamboe, W.-B.W., Kilawi, A.O., Kingston, A., Laltaika, E.A., Lloyd-Jones, D.J., M’manga, G.M., Muhammad, N.Z., Ngcamphalala, C.A., Nhlabatsi, S.O., Oleleteyo, T.T., Sanda, M., Tsamkxao, L., Wood, B.M., Spottiswoode, C.N., Cram, D.L. 2023 Do honey badgers and greater honeyguide birds cooperate to access bees’ nests? Ecological evidence and honey-hunter accounts. Journal of Zoology 321: 22-32 https://doi.org/10.1111/jzo.13093 Read abstract in English and Kiswahili here
- Cram, D.L., van der Wal, J.E.M., Uomini, N.T., Cantor, M., Afan, A.I., Attwood, M.C., Amphaeris, J., Balasani, F., Blair, C.J., Bronstein, J.L., Buanachique, I.O., Cuthill, R.R.T., Das, J., Daura-Jorge, F.G., Deb, A., Dixit, T., Dlamini, G.S., Dounias, E., Gedi, I.I., Gruber, M., Hoffman, L.S., Holzlehner, T., Isack, H.A., Laltaika, A.E., Lloyd-Jones, D.J., Lund, J., Machado, A.M.S., Mahadevan, L., Moreno, I.B., Nwaogu, C.J., Pereira, V.L., Pierotti, R., Rucunua, S.A., dos Santos, W.F., Serpa, N., Smith, B.D., Sridhar, H., Tolkova, I., Tun, T., Valle-Pereira, J.V.S., Wood, B.M., Wrangham, R.W. & Spottiswoode, C.N. 2022 The ecology and evolution of human-wildlife cooperation. People and Nature DOI: 10.1002/pan3.10369 Read abstract in English, Portuguese and Kiswahili here
- van der Wal, J.E.M., Spottiswoode, C.N., Uomini, N.T., Cantor, M., Daura-Jorge, F.G., Afan, A.I., Attwood, M.C., Amphaeris, J., Balasani, F., Begg, C.M., Blair, C.J., Bronstein, J.L., Buanachique, I.O., Cuthill, R.R.T., Das, J., Deb, A., Dixit, T., Dlamini, G.S., Dounias, E., Gedi, I.I., Gruber, M., Hoffman, L.S., Holzlehner, T., Isack, H.A., Laltaika, A.E., Lloyd-Jones, D.J., Lund, J., Machado, A.M.S., Mahadevan, L., Moreno, I.B., Nwaogu, C.J., Pereira, V.L., Pierotti, R., Rucunua, S.A., dos Santos, W.F., Serpa, N., Smith, B.D., Tolkova, I., Tun, T., Valle-Pereira, J.V.S., Wood, B.M., Wrangham, R.W. & Cram, D.L. 2022 Safeguarding human-wildlife cooperation. Conservation Letters e12886 Read abstract in English, Portuguese and Kiswahili here
- Spottiswoode, C.N., Tong, W., Jamie, G.A., Stryjewski, K.F., DaCosta, J., Kuras, E., Green, A., Hamama, S., Taylor, I.G., Moya, C. & Sorenson, M.D. 2022 Genetic architecture facilitates then constrains adaptation in a host-parasite coevolutionary arms race. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 119: e2121752119.
- van der Wal, J.E.M., Gedi, I. & Spottiswoode, C.N. 2022 Awer honey-hunting culture with greater honeyguides in coastal Kenya. Frontiers in Conservation Science 2: 727479.
- Caves, E.M., Dixit, T., Colebrook-Robjent, J.F.R., Hamusikili, L., Stevens, M., Thorogood, R. & Spottiswoode, C.N. 2021 Hosts elevate either within-clutch consistency or between-clutch distinctiveness of egg phenotypes in defence against brood parasites. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 288: 20210326.
- Coetzee, A., Seymour, C.L. & Spottiswoode, C.N. 2021 Facilitation and competition shape a geographical mosaic of flower colour polymorphisms. Functional Ecology 35: 1914-1924.
- Jamie, G.A., Van Belleghem, S., Hogan, B., Hamama, S., Moya, C., Troscianko, J., Stoddard, M.C., Kilner, R.M. & Spottiswoode, C.N. 2020 Multimodal mimicry of hosts in a radiation of parasitic finches. Evolution 74: 2526-2538.
- Spottiswoode, C.N. & Busch, R. 2019 Vive la difference! Self/non-self recognition and the evolution of signature polymorphism in arms races with parasites. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 374: 20180206.
- Spottiswoode, C.N., Begg, K.S. & Begg, C.M. 2016 Reciprocal signalling in honey-guide-human mutualism. Science 353: 387-389.