African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

Rion Cuthill

Rion Cuthill

Biography

I am a naturalist and ornithological research assistant based at the FitzPatrick Institute for African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. From a very young age, I have always enjoyed cataloguing the natural world around me. Birdwatching went hand in hand, but I have since broadened my fascination to include everything from moss to birds to fish. When I am not busy with research work, you can find me hiking in the Cape Fold Mountains, searching for rare plants, or identifying observations on iNaturalist.

After completing a BSc undergrad in Biology and Applied Statistics at the University of Cape Town, I joined the African Honeyguides team in 2021 as a BSc Honours student. For my Honours project I investigated the basic effects of honey-hunting on wildfire in Niassa Special Reserve in northern Mozambique. I used spatial data collected by honey-hunters as well as fire satellite imagery to quantify the impact honey-hunting, and by extension the human-honeyguide mutualism, has on the timing and frequency of wildfires.

 

Research focus

My current focus is on expanding the findings of my Honours project and furthering our understanding of how honey-hunting impacts the surrounding ecosystem through fire. Specifically, I am using several years’ worth of data from our study region to explore how wildfires linked to honey-hunting influence subsequent fire regimes; to robustly identify the contribution of the human-honeyguide mutualism to wildfire frequency and timing; and to then model these effects over the greater Niassa Special Reserve. Fire has played a crucial role in shaping human history and by untangling this specific fire-mediated relationship between humans and honeyguides, I hope to add a new perspective to the life histories of both species.

 

Peer-reviewed publications

 

  • 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 cooperationPeople and Nature 4: 841-855. 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
 

News

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.

read more