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RU Professor, Students Conducting Survey of Bats

Bats get a bad rap.

So says Beth Meyer, a recent RU graduate who is spending three weeks in Pennsylvania this summer surveying for and capturing bats. Meyer is part of a team made up of RU biology professor Karen Francl and two RU students, Matt Brennan and Craig Bland, on a project to assist a consulting firm in large-scale surveys for the federally endangered Indiana bat.

Beth Meyer“Bats are highly underappreciated as a species group by the general public and it is quite amazing to work with and handle an animal that is not often seen up close,” said Meyer (pictured at right).

Francl received a $16,000 grant from Environmental Solutions and Innovations, Inc. of Cincinnati to conduct the surveys. Brennan and Bland are participating with the surveys as part of their 10-week environmental internships with Francl and biology professor Christine Small.

To catch the bats, the RU team uses vertical nets that stretch as high as 30 feet from the ground and are up to 36 feet wide, or about 12 meters. “It all depends on what fits where we are netting,” Francl said. “If a stream is 8 meters wide, we may set up a net that is 9 meters wide to cover the span of the creek.” At an active site, such as a creek or small pond, up to 30 bats may be captured in a single night.

Once captured, proper identification of all bats – not just the endangered Indiana bat – is important. Surveys like these help researchers to better understand the distribution of multiple bat species and their habitat preferences.

A new addition to these surveys in 2009 is measuring the damage to wings of each bat the group captures. The measurements are being taken in light of a recent illness affecting cave bats, White Nose Syndrome. In the past two years, the syndrome has been responsible for killing tens of thousands of bats in the northeastern U.S. and recently was detected in Virginia caves. This also is a disease known to infect the endangered Indiana bat.

Francl said that one of the symptoms is a fungus that grows on the nose wings or any other hairless area on a bat. The fungus can indirectly cause tears, scars and tissue breakdown on these areas, Francl noted. 

The wing damage index scores the appearance and consistency of the wing, and can lead to better assessments of bat community health. This is especially important in states already known to house bats infected with White Nose Syndrome – a disease with a 90 percent mortality rate in some caves.

Because the same index is being utilized by multiple researchers and agencies on the east coast, these data can be shared among bat managers to better assess regional health.

“As a recent alum, it is great for me to have an opportunity like this,” Meyer said. “I really enjoy working out in the field and it is an exciting time to be involved with bat biology, especially with the growing threat of white nose syndrome. 

June 4, 2009
Contact: Chad Osborne (caosborne@radford.edu; 540-831-7761)

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