In parts of Africa, people communicate with a wild bird — the greater honeyguide — in order to locate bee colonies and harvest their stores of honey and beeswax. It’s a rare example of cooperation between humans and wild animals, and a potential instance of cultural coevolution. UCLA anthropologist Brian Wood, PhD, and University of Cape Town ornithologist Claire Spottiswoode, PhD, are the authors of a study showing how this valuable partnership is maintained and varies across cultures. Their article, “Culturally Determined Interspecies Communication Between Humans and Honeyguides,” was published in Science on December 7, 2023. “Our study demonstrates the bird’s ability to learn distinct vocal signals that are traditionally used by different honey-hunting communities, expanding possibilities for mutually beneficial cooperation with people,” Dr. Wood said.
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