Baobabs and bats – new publication on the influence of the landscape and plant traits on fruiting success

Baobab (Adansonia digitata) trees are iconic symbols of the arid lands of continental Africa, and aside from some populations in Southern Africa are largely dependent on fruit bats for pollination. However, the bats visit a diversity of plant species to meet their energetic and nutritional needs, so the pollination service they provide the baobabs may be influenced by the landscape context of individual trees. In collaboration with Dr Paul Webala, Macy Krishnamoorthy set out to determine the relative contribution of individual plant traits, namely tree height and girth, and landscape features and context (e.g., the distance of baobab trees to conspecifics, distances to resources that might attract or distract bats, land use) to baobab reproductive success. Very ably assisted by Mr Michael Bartonjo, she mapped more than 700 baobab trees in ~10 km2 area in Kenya, measured them, and derived a number of landscape variables for each tree. She counted the number of fruit per baobab as a measure of reproductive success.

A mighty baobab with Paul Webala’s magic field bus beneath it for scale

So what did she find? Perhaps not surprisingly, larger trees were more likely to produce fruit and produce more fruit, but landscape variables also played a role, but in a complex and scale-dependent way. The importance of distance to and density of alternate food resources changed with scale, but generally, pawpaws tended to act as attractants whereas figs distracted bats from their role as pollinators.

Eopmorphorus wahlbergi – one of the fruit bat species known to pollinate baobabs

You can read the full story here:

Krishnamoorthy, M.A., Webala, P.W. & Kingston, T. Baobab fruiting is driven by scale-dependent mediation of plant size and landscape features. Landsc Ecol (2022).

Macy in a baobab tree! Baobab trees can live for well over 1000 years and reach up to 5 m in diameter at breast height, so they make for good climbing.

Fieldwork was fun but arduous and there are many people in Kenya to thank! A special thank you to Macy’s local host Daniel Ngei and his family, the local chief Joseph Kavui and all the landowners in the villages of Kaai, Kalesi, Kaluku South, Kandundu, Katithini, Kavui, Kawula, Kiwaani, Mutoleka, Ngieni East, Ngieni West and Yungamaduu who generously allowed us to sample baobabs or others fruiting trees on their lands. Funding for the project came from Bat Conservation Internationa, the Association of Biologists at Texas Tech University, and the Department of Biological Sciences at TTU.

Bats love the baobab flowers, but the fruits are quite a local snack for people. Here they have been dyed green to be sold for $0.05 a bag.

Clutter negotiating ability of forest bats – Our paper in J Exp Biol just published

Most bat community ecologists conceptualize insectivorous bat assemblages as comprising at least three foraging ensembles — the “open-space” ensemble, the “edge/gap” ensemble and the “narrow-space” or forest interior ensemble. The ensembles are generally characterized by different combinations of wing parameters that facilitate flight in those habitats. What’s been less clear is how species differ in performance within these ensembles, and how any differences might map to wing morphology.

That’s what Julie Senawi set out to do as part of her PhD, assessing performance of 15 species of forest interior bats through a collision-avoidance. There are a number of challenges in inferring ability from performance on tests, so we borrowed form the social sciences and applied Rasch Analysis, a latent trait modelling approach related to Item Response Theory. Details of this approach and the findings were published this week and can be requested through my researchgate page:

Senawi, J. & Kingston, T. (2019). Clutter negotiating ability in an ensemble of forest interior bats is driven by body mass. J. Exp. Biol. doi:10.1242/jeb.203950

The title says it all!

Building Julie’s flight cage
4 banks of strings that could be set to different inter-string distances made up the collision-avoidance experiment.
Julie taking photos of the bats to extract wing dimensions

Congratulations to Iroro – a prize winning week!

A great week for Iroro! First she won the Karl Koopman Award for a Student Oral presentation at the 49th North American Society for Bat Research (NASBR) meeting in Kalamazoo. Her talk was entitled “Competitors Versus Filters: Drivers of non-random Structure in Forest Interior Insectivorous Bat Assemblages along Elevational Gradients”.

Icing on the cake came from placing third in TTU’s “Three-Minute Thesis” competition

https://www.depts.ttu.edu/gradschool/current/threeminutethesis.php

Tigga receives NASBR’s Gerrit Miller Award

I was deeply honored to receive the Gerrit S. Miller, Jr  Award from the North American Society for Bat Research at NASBR’s annual conference last week. The award is in recognition of “outstanding service and contribution to the field of chiropteran biology”. I am the 26th awardee in the Society’s 47-yr history, so it is very special to me!

The newest Miller Awardee about to be photobombed by one of the oldest (Roy Horst)

The fabulous plaque!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the best bits of the award is the complex conspiracies that go on to keep it a secret from the recipient until “the big reveal” at the conference banquet. Thank you to all the co-conspirators for making it so special — you know who you are!!!

 

Kate Barlow Award 2018 for graduate research benefitting bat conservation

We are pleased to announce that applications to the 2018 Kate Barlow award are now open – the closing date is 5pm, 4th December 2017.

The Kate Barlow Award aims to encourage the next generation of bat researchers by providing a substantive contribution towards the research costs of postgraduate students undertaking research that will benefit bat conservation, in honour of the late Dr Kate Barlow’s contribution to bat conservation.

  • The Kate Barlow Award is open to students anywhere in the world conducting research which has a direct relevance for bat conservation.
  • One award of up to £4,500 will be made, towards the costs of a bat research project of no less than 4 months duration.
  • In addition BCT will pay for the award winner to attend either the BCT National Bat Conference or another relevant bat research and conservation conference.
  • An award decision will be made by the end of February 2018.

To apply, a completed application form together with two letters of recommendation should be emailed to science@bats.org.uk. The application form and guidance notes can be found on our website here:  http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/the_kate_barlow_award.html

Kate Barlow and a phyllostomid friend in Colombia, 1993 – great times (Photo T. Kingston)

Ph.D position on Physiological Ecology of Flying Foxes in Australia — McGuire Lab at TTU

My colleague here at TTU, Dr Liam McGuire, has an awesome PhD position available. See the advert and contact details below:

The McGuire lab at Texas Tech University is looking for a highly motivated PhD student to work as part of an NSF-funded collaborative study of flying foxes and Hendra virus in Australia. The successful applicant will work with an international and multidisciplinary team of collaborators, seeking to understand how human influences affect Hendra virus spillover events. As human development clears native forest resources, flying foxes that are traditionally nomadic or migratory have increasingly established permanent resident camps in urban and peri-urban areas. The PhD student will lead efforts to study the nutritional ecology, foraging dynamics, energetics, and stress physiology of resident flying foxes compared to migratory populations. Experience working with bats is an advantage, but more important is experience with ecophysiology methods such as energetics, nutritional physiology, and stress physiology. Fieldwork will extend for periods of up to 1 year in Australia, and therefore the successful candidate must be independent, motivated, and well organized, able to work well with a large team of collaborators under challenging field conditions. Another PhD position related to the project will be available in the Plowright lab at Montana State University, focusing on immunology and virus dynamics in flying foxes.

Anticipated start date for the position is January 1, 2018. For more information about the project, contact Liam McGuire (liam.mcguire@ttu.edu). The position will be based at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, but extended periods of fieldwork will be conducted in Australia. Interested students should send a CV and brief summary of relevant experience to Liam McGuire (liam.mcguire@ttu.edu).

Special Issue in Diversity “Diversity and Conservation of Bats” — submissions wanted!

I am the guest editor for a special issue in the journal Diversity entitled “Diversity and Conservation of Bats”. Submissions are due before 31st March 2018, so plenty of time to pull together some great papers!  The scope address the following:  i) the diversity and distribution of bats; ii) the effect of human activities (e.g., landuse change, hunting, roost disturbance, climate change) on bat behavior, populations, diversity, distributions, or ecosystem function; iii) drivers of human activities that threaten bats (e.g., attitudes, knowledge, perceptions, economics); and iv) conservation applications, particularly those that evaluate evidence of success.

For full details, head to the issue page here:

Diversity and Conservation of Bats

Kendra recently published in the journal and had a good experience with them. Once the article is accepted, it is up in the issue almost immediately, and the review process was also very efficient.  So, I look forward to seeing submissions.

Viral richness and cave roosting in bats – Kendra’s paper out today in Diversity

Kendra has a paper out today, with lead author Anna Willoughby and Kevin Olival from Ecohealth Alliance, in Diversity exploring the role of roosting ecology in patterns of viral richness and sharing among bat species. The authors compiled bat-virus associations (from previously published databases) and ecological traits to investigate the importance of roosting behavior on viral richness and sharing. Cave-roosting bats do not host greater viral richness than non-cave-roosting bats, but do exhibit a greater likelihood of sharing viruses, especially between species documented as co-roosting in the same cave.

Willoughby, Anna R.; Phelps, Kendra L.; PREDICT Consortium; Olival, Kevin J. 2017. “A Comparative Analysis of Viral Richness and Viral Sharing in Cave-Roosting Bats.” Diversity 9, no. 3: 35. doi:10.3390/d9030035

The paper is open access and can be downloaded here:  http://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/9/3/35

 

Bias in Open Source Bat Data — Ecological Informatics paper out today

Marina’s first publication from her dissertation research is online today — congrats! Marina and undergraduate co-author Rebecca Wilson pulled together and cleaned a huge dataset of Southeast Asian GBIF records. Perhaps not surprisingly, Southeast Asian bat sampling effort is spatially biased, most notably by distance to protected area. However, ecology also plays a role, with bias varying among foraging groups. A particularly novel contribution to the field was examination of how bias changed through time.  The paper is OPEN ACCESS until July 5th.

Marina Fisher-Phelps, Guofeng Cao, Rebecca Wilson and Tigga Kingston. (2017) Protecting bias: Across time and ecology, open-source bat locality data are heavily biased by distance to protected area. Ecological Informatics 40: 22-34. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoinf.2017.05.003.

** NOTE the current pdf on the Ecological Informatics site is missing a table. It is present in the online version. This will be corrected soon.

Congratulations to Dr Fisher-Phelps!

Marina did a great job on her defense yesterday, successfully defending her dissertation entitled “Modeling Southeast Asian Bat Distributions: Assessing the Effect of Ecology and Spatial Biases on Model Accuracy”. The first data chapter is in revision for Ecological Informatics. Thanks to her committee members Nancy McIntyre, Dylan Schwilk, Guofeng Cao, and Rich Strauss for their service and support of Marina. Thanks also to Blake Grisham for acting as Dean’s Rep.