African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

Dr Susan Miller

Susan Miller


I am broadly interested in the application of science to conservation issues with a special interest in genetics. My doctoral research investigated the conservation challenges of managing lions on small reserves in South Africa, with a strong genetic component. I followed this with a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pretoria studying the genetics of colour variants in the game industry before joining the FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town as a postdoctoral fellow in 2017 where I started applying my genetic knowledge to avian systems.

From January 2021 until March 2023 I took on the part-time role as Manager of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence at the Fitz while continuing to pursue research projects on Lesser Sheathbill genetics, avian malaria in Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, Australian Dingo population genetics and Lion metapopulation management.

In June 2023 I joined the African Honeyguide team to provide logistical, administration support as well as molecular genetics support for the honeybee component of the project.

Selected research outputs

(Please see Google Scholar for a full publication list)



Honey-hunting Research Network workshop

The Honey-hunting Research Network (coordinated by Jessica van der Wal) met in Cape Town for a very enjoyable week of analysing and comparing interview data from honey-hunting cultures across Africa, painting a picture of the human cultural variation relevant to honeyguides, and its uncertain future on a rapidly changing continent. Joining in person were Wiro-Bless Kamboe, Rochelle Mphetlhe, George M’manga, Sanele Nhlabatsi, Daniella Mhangwana, Celiwe Ngcamphalala, Claire Spottiswoode and Jessica van der Wal. Thank you to the Cultural Evolution Society Transformation Fund for funding our get-together!

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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.

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