Join Professor Claire Spottiswoode for our annual Stamford Raffles Lecture, discussing co-evolution as an engine of biodiversity.
The honeyguide is just one of the amazing species' relationships being covered at the lecture, being held on 12 June 2018.
Honeyguides are masters of both positive and negative interactions with other species. They are brutal brood parasites of other birds (chicks have special bill hooks to stab their foster siblings to death in the nest), but cooperate with humans to gain access to their favourite food, beeswax.
Honeyguides know where the bees are, but can’t get at the wax, whereas humans know how to get at the wax, but can’t find the bees. So honeyguides lead human honey-hunters to bees’ nests using special calls. The humans use fire to subdue the bees and axes to open up the nest cavity, revealing wax for the birds and honey for the humans. This cooperation has probably existed for as long as we’ve been human – maybe even longer.
We’ve been studying it in Mozambique with the help of the honey-hunting community of the Niassa National Reserve. In many parts of Africa, people use specialised sounds to signal to honeyguides that they’re looking for honey.
In northern Mozambique, it’s a loud trill followed by a grunt (‘brrrrrrr-hm!’). Our research has confirmed that honeyguides are much more likely to cooperate with humans who make this sound, compared to arbitrary human sounds. Humans know what honeyguides are trying to tell them, and honeyguides understand us, in a two-way conversation. Sadly the honeyguide-human mutualism is disappearing from large parts of Africa as the continent develops, so we feel lucky to be studying it in the handful of places where this part of our own evolutionary history still thrives.
The Stamford Raffles Lecture is ZSL's premier event in its annual programme of Science and Conservation Events. Established in 1995, the lectures have been given by eminent speakers on a wide range of zoological topics.
Select a blog
Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.