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Department of Zoology


Individuals can create value ('produce'), or freeload from others ('scrounge'). These tactic decisions impact ecology, evolution, and economics. Researchers from the Department of Zoology studied these tactics in greater honeyguides birds. These birds can either lead people to bees' nests and eat leftover beeswax after the honey harvest, or scrounge beeswax. Dominic Cram and his colleagues found that honeyguides switch tactics, but that helping humans yields more beeswax than scrounging. Larger birds typically scrounged, perhaps because they bully rivals at the beeswax. Lightweight females rarely helped people, potentially to avoid aggression. Overall, the study found that tactic decisions are shaped by their pay-offs and individual characteristics, even when individuals commonly switch tactics.

The study is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.