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Guides and cheats: producer–scrounger dynamics in the human–honeyguide mutualism

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Lloyd-Jones, David 
van der Wal, Jessica 
Lund, Jess 
Buanachique, Iahaia 


Foraging animals commonly choose whether to find new food (as “producers”), or scavenge from others (as “scroungers”), and this decision has ecological and evolutionary consequences. Understanding these tactic decisions is particularly vital for naturally-occurring producer-scrounger systems of economic importance, because they determine the system’s productivity and resilience. Here, we investigate how individuals’ traits predict tactic decisions, and the consistency and pay-offs of these decisions, in the remarkable mutualism between humans (Homo sapiens) and greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator). Honeyguides can either guide people to bees’ nests and eat the resulting beeswax (producing), or scavenge beeswax (scrounging). Our results suggest that honeyguides flexibly switched tactics, and that guiding yielded greater access to the beeswax. Birds with longer tarsi scrounged more, perhaps because they are more competitive. The lightest females rarely guided, possibly to avoid aggression, or because genetic matrilines may affect female body mass and behaviour in this species. Overall, aspects of this producer-scrounger system likely increase the productivity and resilience of the associated human-honeyguide mutualism, because the pay-offs incentivise producing, and tactic-switching increases the pool of potential producers. Broadly, our findings suggest that even where tactic-switching is prevalent and producing yields greater pay-offs, certain phenotypes may be predisposed to one tactic.



producer-scrounger, mutualism, foraging strategies, human-wildlife cooperation, indicator indicator, greater honeyguide

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Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Biological Sciences

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The Royal Society
British Ecological Society (LRB18/1015)
European Research Council (725185)
Dominic Cram, David Lloyd-Jones, Jess Lund, Claire Spottiswoode, and Jessica van der Wal were supported by a European Research Council Consolidator Grant (725185 HONEYGUIDES-HUMANS) to Claire Spottiswoode. Dominic Cram was also supported by a Large Research Grant from the British Ecological Society.
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