S2E16 Winifred is the Chief Scientist at Bat Conservation International as well as an associate research professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
In this episode, Steve finds out about the discovery Winifred made about the ecology of Pallid bats whilst undertaking her PhD out in the deserts and chats to her about her work as a key scientist in the efforts to research the effects of White-Nose Syndrome, informing long-term management actions.
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Hello, I'm Steve Roe, and thanks for downloading this episode of The Bat Conservation Trust's podcast BatChat. Bringing you the stories from the bat conservation movement. We hope you enjoy it. Don't forget, you can join the conversation online using the hashtag BatChat. This week, I'm delighted to introduce a guest who is a titan in the world of bats, as well as making a new discovery about desert dwelling pallid bats. She's the Chief Scientist of Bat Conservation International, and I caught her with her at the start of November. Here in the UK, we're two days away from going into a second national lockdown. And over in the United States, where my guest is around 255 million Americans are just waking up and will be going to the polls to cast their vote for their next president. So the pair of us are escaping reality for a short while to talk about Dr. Winifred Frick. Good morning.Winifred Frick:
Good morning.Steve Roe:
Not that I want to dwell on the presidential election. But what's the general mood over there in California?Winifred Frick:
Oh, I think anxiety can sum it up in one word. I'd like to say that I'm cautiously optimistic. But we'll see.Steve Roe:
By the time this goes out in a few weeks. Well, we're long know the result by then. So we'll have we'll have had we know it in the winter for it. Can you please introduce yourself and what you what your role is really?Winifred Frick:
Sure. I'm Dr. Winifred Frick, and I'm the Chief Scientist at Bat Conservation International. And I'm an associate research professor and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Santa Cruz.Steve Roe:
It sounds a very nice role to have, you know, being chief scientist, how did you end up here doing the work you do when When did bats become part of your life?Winifred Frick:
About 20 years ago, actually. So I was about to, I was looking into returning to graduate school after doing some international travel between my undergrad and grad and I ended up meeting somebody who was working as a consultant on bats doing mitigation work surveys for National Park Service and making sure that bats that were under bridges were not exterminated. If a bridge was being retrofitted for earthquakes, which is a thing here in California, and I ended up volunteering for him and working for him. And we ended up falling in love. And then I fell in love with bats. And now we're now married. And that's became my life.Steve Roe:
And what does your day to day job at Bat Conservation International entail?Winifred Frick:
Well, it used to involve a lot of travel, but now it spends it's a lot of time on Zoom. Basically, you know, I like to think of the big, big version of my job as being I'm in charge of trying to figure out what are the important research questions that we need to answer to help protect the world's bat populations. And that's both incredibly inspiring, and also really daunting. There's a lot of questions that we need to answer. There's a lot of bats that are that are threatened around the world from human activity. And so we we have to figure out what are what are the highest priority questions that we need to work on? What are the species that are in the most imminent danger of of extinction that we need to put actions into place right now to save? And what are the what are the big threats that? And where and where is the real line between what are we ready to tackle from a conservation perspective of what what are the species that we know what to do to to save them? And what are the questions that and where are they? Where's the science that we need to figure out which data gaps we need to fill to be able to conduct conservation action? So that's really my job as Chief Scientist is figuring out what are the real outstanding questions that we need to tackle.Unknown:
Over here in the UK, we don't hear very much about Bat Conservation International because we have BCT as our as our bat, charity, and NGO. I mean, how big is BCI? Because obviously, I mean, what sort of range do you cover? Do you do you literally deal with the rest of the world? We do, we have a global remit. And you know, we are a US based nonprofit organisation. And for a long while, we still have our headquarters in Texas. But for a long time, we were really based in Texas, we're now a distributed organisation where we have staff all over the United States. And we actually have some staff now also, in Mexico in the last couple of years, we've really been emphasising what we like to say, putting the I into BCI. So putting the international into that Conservation International, but we have projects all over the world. So in terms of like our size, think our full time staff size is over 30 employees now. And we're continually growing, we've been in a row growth phase. And we've got projects in Fiji and Jamaica in a couple of different places in Africa. A lot of our work still is based in the United States because that's where we're based, but we do feel like our mission is to protect the bat species around the world. And so we're we're really focused on and growing our ability to work with local partners and local people around the world to help them achieve that conservation. So an awful lot then, how do you guys choose which bats to work with? And where does all that funding come from? Those are great questions. Yeah, so that was actually one of I started working for Bat Conservation International, about three and a half years ago. And that was one of the first things we had to sort of tackle was what is like, how do we prioritise right, and so actually created a, a prioritisation rubric that we use. And it has basically three axes. So the first is vulnerability, which is we look at what species are considered critically endangered or endangered by the IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, as all as well as species that are listed on you know, individual country lists of impairment. So either whether that's a country read list or an endangered species act, there are whatnot. But, you know, we published a paper a couple of years ago that, that shows the current level, I haven't actually pulled the IUCN data this week, and it changes all the time, but like, you know, there's like 20 to 26 Different species that are critically endangered last time I looked, and all told about a third of the of the bat fauna that's classified by the IUCN either either qualifies as some category of threatened by the IUCN, or, or data deficient. So vulnerability in and of itself isn't a particularly good, prioritisation tool, because there's more species than we can get to in our lifetimes that need our help. So the other axes to the rubric are feasibility and impact. And so feasibility is really an internal look here at BCI. Of what what? What are our skills and expertise and ability to execute work that will actually help protect the species? And then impact is are there are there known actions that we can take that we have confidence in can actually mitigate or reduce the the the stressors or the threat? So we sort of look at, you know, what are the what are the really imperilled species that need our immediate attention? What are we positioned to be able to feasibly carry out? And then other things that we could feasibly do? What kind of impact it will have in in, in protecting a species? I think get to the money question. How do we fund it? You know, that's, it's really that's the big challenge, right? In conservation. And I think that, you know, it's actually, it's hard, because, I mean, this is a common problem that's known, you know, pretty, pretty broadly that where conservation is most needed in the world is also some of the hardest work to fund. Because it's not typically where the dollars come from. So it's really about clear messaging and talking to our membership and to our donors, about the work that we do, and the value of it and the value of that conservation to the health of the planet and global health. And it's actually, I think, I think there's real compelling arguments to make there.Steve Roe:
For the listeners over in the US. Do you have any advice for people who want to get involved in bat conservation?Winifred Frick:
Yeah, that's a great question. And one that I think is is I mean, so you can become a member of BCI. And that's actually a great way to sort of have access to, you know, activities that are that are happening or, or ways to be supportive and involved in in bat conservation. In the United States, we don't have the same history of like community science. So we use called Citizen Science and there's a move to try to use language that is a little bit more inclusive. And so we've we've renamed citizen science, community science. And in the UK, there's this great history of people being involved in helping with monitoring and helping, you know, go out and collect data and be involved. And that, that doesn't really exist in the US yet. I mean, that's starting to we're starting to build that kind of insurance, interest and an activity so at BCI we've started a bat walks programme. That's, it's not universal yet, but it's in the pilots stages. And we've been working on it in Texas and in Florida and some other places to really involve people and being able to go out and appreciate bats listen for bats, using handheld back detectors. And my big dream is to take that idea and help create ways in which people can collect data that will be used spool for the wave this North American bat monitoring programme in, in the US right now and in Canada. And so being able to get people involved in helping us collect data to that will, that are ultimately used for helping us determine what our status and trends for our bat populations are. So that's stuff that we're working towards right now. Like, the best advice I can give is to check out our website and maybe become a member and think about ways of supporting Bat Conservation organisations.Steve Roe:
What are the challenges with covering such a vast area? I mean, the USA alone isn't exactly a small area, how do you guys manage to do it all? Really?Winifred Frick:
They're just pure grit and determination. Yeah, it's, you know, I think it's, well, you know, COVID has made it way more complicated, we actually mean, one of the one of the challenges that you have with doing really effective Bat Conservation around the world is that working with bats is is such a specialised thing. And you really have to have a lot of experience and a lot of a lot of training to be able to do it safely for the bands. And in ways that can, that your that your actions and research itself isn't, doesn't have a negative impact. And so what we have found is that, you know, just that we sort of take this, what I kind of don't like sort of partners in the field approach, which is that really is very helpful to work side by side with our local partners, and really be there to be conducting work, but that also has real collaborative and sort of training components so that people on the ground and various places gain the ability to have access to a lot of the specialised equipment and a lot of the specialised training. And so that requires a lot of travel and a lot of, you know, staff time, because it's not just that there aren't a lot and a lot of places, there are other NGOs that have or other conservation organisations that have people on staff who can conduct on the ground bat work. And so that's where it really is about collaboration and working with with folks. So that that means that we spend quite a bit of time before COVID, I spend quite a bit of my time, you know, travelling to places and working, working in different places with people. But that's obviously been hasn't hasn't so much happened in 2020. But luckily, we you know, that that approach also means that we build really close connections and strong connections with our, our partners, and so they're able to be continuing to do the work. Even in this time ofUnknown:
That was gonna be my next question. How are you guys COVID. coping with COVID? And how you mentioned to get on with your activities? Yeah, I mean, we've we had to, we've had to delay a number of projects. You know, I think I don't know how familiar the listeners are with the concern that given that there were so many uncertainties about COVID. And the fact that there was some evidence that other mammals could actually get contract COVID and get sick. So there's the, you know, the Minks that were getting sick in the Netherlands, and there were some tigers that got sick at the Bronx Zoo. There rose a credible concern that bats could actually get exposed to SARS, Cov-2, to the virus that causes COVID. And we didn't know what that might happen if bats got exposed, and you know, for those of us who work and on white nose syndrome in North America, we have very little patience for the idea of a novel pathogen getting introduced to our native bat populations. And so the bat conservation community, globally decided, both here in the United States, but then also there, the IUCN bat specialist group decided that that best practice would be to reduce the chance that humans could expose bats to the virus. And so I've been involved with the IUCN spat specialist group has come up with a come out with a series of guidance for anybody who comes in contact with bats of how to reduce the chance that you could expose bats the virus and that, in large part comes from the fact that as in bat researchers and our standard practice, right is that if you, if you have a bat and you're handling it, and it starts to chew on your glove, you might blow on its face to get it to stop chewing on you. Well, if you're an asymptomatic shedder of of a virus, then you've just blown respiratory droplets on this poor bats face. So there are some PPE. You know, we had to really change the way that we do bat work when white nose syndrome happened because we had to really think about is our responsibility of not potentially spreading the fungus that causes white nose syndrome from from site to site or from bat to bat. And that really changed a lot of what we call field hygiene, terms of the way that we conduct fieldwork. And so a lot of those steps towards better field hygiene also are just generally best practices for reducing any chance of moving pathogens around in either direction. And, and really the biggest change then is wearing wearing a face mask. So that basically the kinds of things that you do to protect other people you should be doing to protect wildlife. Here, I was gonna say though, those guidelines he wrote on decontamination protocols we use over here in the UK when we're doing hibernation surveys, even though we haven't got white nose syndrome. Luckily, we still insist that if people are travelling outside of the local area into our county, we asked them to decontaminate in and wash all their stuff before they enter our cave sites as well. It's just really best practice. I mean, I think that I think that's the big, you know, one of the big lessons for white nose is I mean, we didn't do it before white nose. But that doesn't mean that there isn't some other pathogen that if you introduced it accidentally, somewhere that other that's something similar could happen, right? And, and it's challenging as you, you know, you the ability to implement those kinds of strict decontamination rules on that kind of level of PPE is harder to implement in certain places, just because access to PPE is harder to get, or it's more expensive. But I do think that there's lots of ways in which we can, as a, as a general community of global bat, researchers do a better job with our field hygiene. And so that COVID was a bit of a chance to try to talk more broadly about that and kind of change some of the culture around, you know, about research handling. I mean, when I started doing that research, you know, it wasn't really I mean, yeah, everybody was vaccinated for rabies. But other than that, there's really no attention to me, we'd have a bag of chips on the processing table, you know, and you did sit there and process bands and reach into the chip bag. You know, it's just unthinkable now, but, but that's still I think, you know, that there's still a little bit of that kind of mentality out there. And so. Yeah, definitely. And we kept mentioning white nose syndrome there just to delve into that subject area. I mean, I remember being at a National Bat Conference over here in in the UK, in around 2006, when Emily Davis came over to give a talk about this worrying new discovery of large numbers of bats dine in a small number of caves near New York. So just to recap, as listeners, what's the beginning of that story of when white nose syndrome was discovered? And when did we realise it was much more serious than when we first discovered it? Well, really, we we knew it was really serious almost from the beginning. So the story of white nose syndrome is that well, every every other so the Indiana bats are Myotis sodalis is a species of bat that is federally listed on the federal Endangered Species Act in the United States. And as part of the recovery plan for that species, biologists were required to go in on an every other year cycle to count the number of Indiana bats hibernating. This is a species that forms large aggregations underground, in a lot of state biologists. So in the in the US and the range of the Indiana bat, which was northeast and into the what we call the Midwest, in the US. We're on a cycle to go count Indiana bats. And so when they're when they're underground for the winter. And luckily, a lot of those biologists also would then count any other species that were co occurring with them. So that includes little brown bats, also the northern long eared bat, in some areas, the tri coloured bat. And so Al Hicks, who was the state biologist for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, went in to do his annual surveys and notice something he'd never seen before, which was that there were large piles of dead bats on the floor of of the caves in New York. This was obviously super worrying. And there was this, you know, white stuff on their faces that wasn't known before. And one of the ways in which we accurately counted Indiana bats was to actually take photographs of them to be able to then subsequently count the noses in the photos because that was a more reliable and less disruptive way of counting them. So after the fact, I was actually able to go back and look through all those photos and see that there was never before any photo documentation of white noses on these bats. And so that was an indication that this was we can pinpoint sort of the novel introduction, there was a photo from 2006. So owl, I think first saw the dice in 2007. But it looks like and now now that we've studied white nose for over a decade, we know that the fungus fever Isn't it takes a couple of years for it to sort of ramp up in the system and then bats start to die. So the fungus had probably got there and either 05 or 06. The first photos were from 06, and the die-outs were from 07. So and then since then, you know, so it didn't take very long then for Al was really good at, you know, kind of pulling a bunch of people together and taking a quick look and getting a collaborative response. It involved the US Fish and Wildlife Service because it's both federally endangered species, as well as the consortium of sort of state managers who are responsible for managing wildlife at the state level, and involve the National Wildlife Health Centre and they identified the fungus. Very quickly, Europeans also became involved as we started to try to look for where where this fungus might have come from. And so I think it was only a couple of years later that Sebastian FreshMail published the first paper showing that the fungus had been found in France. And since then there's been a large body of work showing how widespread the fungus is, throughout Europe and then also in temperate Asia. But in the meantime, in the early days, in the North America became quite clear that this was having a devastating impact to hibernating bat species. And you know, we've we've lost, you know, probably millions of bats from the disease at this point, and it's spread basically across North America. It's now sort of coast to coast although it's a little more patchily distributed. Once you get past there's been a strong wavefront through Eastern and into the Midwest, and then that it also is occurring in Washington State.Steve Roe:
And why does it spread so rapidly? You know, like you said in that last decade, it's spread right across North America and a clear east to west pattern what why is it move so rapidly?Unknown:
Well, so the disease is caused by a fungus that is capable of persisting in, in hibernacula in the caves and mines where bats are hibernating. So once I mean, the fungus really grows on the skin tissues, and the bats shed it while it and shed the, the Canadia which is the equivalent of like a spore. And and so then in that can persist for a long time in these underground environments. And so when bands come and visit the underground environments, they are capable of picking it up from the surface of the caves, and then in carrying it on their skin tissues. And then events are moving around quite quite a bit, and probably a lot more than we give them credit for. So you know that? And I think, you know, some work that my graduate student who's now a professor at Virginia Tech, Dr. Kate Langwig, did as part of her PhD, really showed that infection are sort of really ramps up once that start hibernating. But I think bats are still moving quite a bit during that winter time, more than we probably anticipated. So yeah, I mean, I think it's primarily transmitted. I think our understanding at this point is it's training, primarily spread through back to bat movements and back to back contact and back to site contact. But it's also quite possible for people to move it around. And that's been one of the things that we can try to do for from management perspectives is and that's the whole point about decontamination is really reducing the chance that people are moving this around because it's a you know, it's an invisible fungal pathogen and so you go into a cave and you get it on your clothes and your boots and then if you don't clean your equipment, then you go somewhere else, it's quite possible for you to transport it.Steve Roe:
Um, why do we think it took so long for for the fungus to arrive in the US, you know, cave has been travelling around the worlds for for decades before 2006 Do we know? What what caused it to arrive all of a sudden?Winifred Frick:
No, I mean, what we know is that it first showed up at a popular tourist like a showcase where lots of people are moving through so I think it's just one of those sort of you know, stochastic things where it was just the right combination of you know, someone didn't you know, didn't didn't clean I mean, we don't we don't necessarily know that it came on somebody's boots that is but it is the most parsimonious explanation. And so, you know, everything sort of has to line up right they've got to like not they've had to have visited a cave you know, shortly before coming to another cave. It's got to kind of come off and then it's it's somehow then needs to get you know, from from that exposure event into a place where the bats are roosting and then the bats to pick it up and, and kind of take hold. I mean, invasion is a stochastic process, right. I mean, there's some other hypotheses out there like perhaps a bat stowed away on shipping bunker, and there is some evidence that those things happen and Alberni is a is a port, you know, it's on it's on the Hudson. It's a port town. In whichever scenario it is. And I don't think we'll ever know at this point, you know, has to do with human trade or travel at some level. Right? So it's like, naturally bats from from Europe aren't getting to North America without some human assistance.Unknown:
And does it affect all bat species that hibertnate? Do we know of any bat species which are immune to it?Winifred Frick:
I wouldn't use the word immune. But there's, there's definitely variable impacts. So there's four species that are really well, three species that are really heavily impacted. And then one species that has, it's an interesting one in some areas of Thailand. So the Indian answers, it's in some areas, it's highly impacted. And in some areas, it seems to be doing okay. And we don't quite understand why that is its role site to site level, variation and impacts. But the three species that are most heavily impacted are the northern long eared bass, they're just absolutely decimated. And then the little brown bats, which are also very high mortality rates, and the tri coloured bands, and then there are a number of species that don't seem to they get exposed to the fungus, and they they don't seem to develop the characteristic, it will that maybe they get, well, there's some species that don't even get the characteristic lesions, they can get exposed to the fungus that does not seem to invade their skin tissues in the same way, and we don't see associated mortality, and those are the species in the in the current Orionis group, which is similar to your pet codice. And then other species can get some lesions and they have some mortality, but in general seem to not have a high degree of susceptibility and high levels of mortality. So things like big brown bats. So and, and why that is, is still under investigation, trying to understand there's been some work and trying to understand some of the whether that has to do with sort of a, you know, hibernation pattern like natural torpor patterns, or whether that's to do with some natural immune function or some combination of those two or microbiota in the skin? Or there's there's a whole host of different reasons why some species might be more susceptible than others. But we don't have a particularly good predictive model for that at this point.Steve Roe:
And do we have? Or are we any closer to solving it really, if we got anything to prevent it or fix this in theUnknown:
Well, there's been a lot of investment in trying to long run? look at ways in which we can either treat bats or clean the environment. There, Tonie Rocke at the National Wildlife Health Centre is working on a vaccine actually. And that's pretty exciting. A lot of efforts to try to find something to treat bats with have been met with a lot of with limited success. I think that there's a lot of challenges with that in terms of both sort of delivery and trying to limit the non target effects. But also, yeah, I mean, then the delivery piece being like how can what's what's sustainable and realistic in terms of being able to get to the largest number, the, you know, a reasonable proportion of bats that are underground to receive treatment. At Bat Conservation International, we were working on a project that we like to call our fat bat projects. We're kind of so some of the research that Dr. Tina Cheng did when she was a graduate student showed populations, remnant populations in the Northeast populations that are still existing, are heavier than they were pre whitenose. And so that suggests that putting on fat might be a successful strategy for surviving, especially since we know that one of the things that whiteness does is it disrupts natural arousal patterns. And so so we started thinking about well, are there ways in which we could actually help bats get fat during fall swarm? So I started collaborating with Dr. Craig Willis at the University of Winnipeg is a physiologist, and has done some really nice work looking at you know, how bats really they have this concentrated time period in the fall where they pack on a lot of fat and it's sort of like a all you can eat buffet kind of time period and just seeing just how fast they can get to survive winter. And so we've been using UV light lures to basically create a bug buffet near hibernacula to basically basically try to create an all you can eat buffet for bats during this false warm period and they're using it and and so we're pretty excited. It's it's early days we can't we don't have results yet but we we've conducted a pilot project And we're actually expanding on that work right now, to see just how, how beneficial it might be. And where should people go, if they want to take a look and find out more information about white nose syndrome went for it? Well, you can always look at our website at BCI. So www.batcon.org. And go to our work, and it's under research and development of scalable solutions section. And then also the US Fish and Wildlife Service has the website. It's white nose syndrome.org, that has a lot of information about white nose and is a really great resource for learning more.Steve Roe:
And we'll put those links in the show notes below as well. So just moving away from white nose syndrome during your PhD between was it 2005 to 2007, you were doing that?Winifred Frick:
Well, PhD is longer in the in the US so 2002 to 2007; that's actually a fast PhD!Unknown:
I mean, I mean, during that you made a pretty major discovery about Pallid bats didn't you. And just before we get to that discovery, why were you working with Pallid bats out in the deserts of Mexico. So actually was working on a project looking at island biogeography of bats on islands and the off the peninsula, the Baja Peninsula in northwestern Mexico and really trying to understand some general ideas of the impact of Island area and island isolation on that species richness and which bass can get to far islands and how habitat how Island area and habitat complexity influences that species richness and community composition. And while we were doing that work, which was a great way to spend my PhD, because I guess basically got to sea kayak out to that desert islands and after bats and we had actually had this whole extra component to my doctoral thesis that I had proposed to my committee which was looking at the in that system. The one of the Keystone plants is the Cardon cactus, which is one of sort of the iconic columnar cacti in there that pollinated and the lesser long nosed bats Leptonycteris yerbabuenae are migratory to the Baja Peninsula. And, and so I was actually interested in ways in which pollination interactions could also be influenced by island biogeography. And I had pitched this whole idea to my committee, and they were like, I think you already have a doctoral thesis. Your original questions, like, that's just too much. I was like, oh, man, but because I'd spent so much time like sort of thinking through these ideas. What the next time we headed down into the field, we went out because I just wanted to test like, would we have been able to, to conduct this work and I was just sort of curious. So back then, like your, you know, handheld back detector was a relatively new invention. I had it an antibody that was hooked up to like a predecessor to a smart It's funny how quickly technology changes, but it was like, Yeah, we were so high tech, we had this, you know, it was like, there wasn't a smartphone. It was like one of those like, you know, personal devices that kind of was like a little mini handheld computer kind of thing. And I remember what we call them. Anyway, we were standing under this Cardon cactus, we actually, one of the reasons we were doing this was because the winds had come up and we couldn't get out to the islands. So we were sort of just had this extra night in the field. So we drove out to where there was some Cardon blooming and stood around underneath this cactus with flowers to test out our actor handheld bat detector and started noticing that like, yeah, there were bats coming to these flowers but they're they're echolocation calls look like pallid bats. And when we shine the light up on them, they were clearly pPallid bats they had big ears. And by the way that they were flying, they were not lesser long nosed bats. And there was just like a flock of them, like hitting all these flowers and shoving their faces into the flowers. It was like totally bizarre and beautiful and amazing. And raised a bunch of questions about what what in the world were they doing so basically, for the rest of that field season. We every time we would set up nets we would put ourselves underneath like Cardon and and watch for bats and and it didn't happen every night in an owl places. But it was definitely a regular thing that we would see power bats come into these flowers. So and then that led to you know, a whole series of studies trying to understand you know, where the bats being insectivorous, or were they just going after insects and and and then looking at the pollination efficiency and so yeah, that had never been observed before because pallid bats normally feed on on the ground and they they normally feed on scorpions. Can you just give us an insight into the ecology of pallid bats? Sure, right. So pallid bats are kind of like classic ground gleaning bat they have big ears and short muzzles, and they're famous for feeding and scorpions. They're actually immune to Scorpion venom, and there's certainly lots of scorpions in the desert and Baja. So they kind of typically fly low to the ground and listening for the sounds of scorpions on the ground, and then we'll actually pounce and pick up scorpions, they also eat other things like centipedes, or we have a pure pellet bats here in California too. And here they eat, like what we call the Jerusalem crickets like they're really big ground cricket. There were some observations of so Donna Howell, who was an early bat researcher was sort of the kind of pioneers of that biology in the in the 70s and early 80s, had worked on lesser long nosed bats in Sonoran Desert ecosystems, and had noted seeing pallid bats with fruit smears on their face. And there had been some observations of Pallid bats with pollen on their faces, but we had routinely captured pallet bats with pollen on their faces when I was doing my PhD fieldwork. And the assumption has always been the that was because they were gleaning insects off of nocturnal blooming flowers and sort of, you know, brushing into flowers as they were hunting for for insects, we ended up we're setting up these cameras that could record all the visitations to the nocturnal blooming flowers, and had you know, just hours and hours and hours of recording and we have a few videos where pal bats are trapping big smiles inside flowers. But the vast majority of of the videos show pal that's just plunging their faces into the flowers. And then we actually cut these little windows in the flowers and could see the bats shoving their faces in there and like lapping at the nectar and the nectarine. So it's, it's clear, they're going for the sweet nectar reward. Why do we think that the need both the athropods and the nectar as well? Is it a case of they're going for nectar when there aren't enough other prey items available? Or is it a top up and a bit of a sugar rush sort of thing? I mean, it's just I think they're just getting a really nice, like sugar fix at the beginning of the evening. You know, they tend to be in the flowers. Right? Right at sundown. And I mean, my guess is that they probably discovered it, you know, when they were predating on things that were like moths that were feeding the flowers, and then you know, but a moth is, you know, we have lots of we have we have videos of them chasing moths very few where they actually ended up getting it. And but you know, the nectar is always there. So I think that that's how they discovered it. And then it's just released. These are water limited sites, too. So there's there's hydration value. There's, I mean, it's a it's a massive carb hit. So I just think of them liking a balanced diet, you know, they want their show, sugary card hit and then and then they can go eat some nice protein rich scorpions. And have you've worked out whether it's Pallid bats across all regions, because I mean they're found from Canada all the way through the West Coast of the USA down into Mexico, or is it just that population that you're working on in Mexico that really widespread throughout throughout Baja, I think and does it? then there's some recent work that a grad student near the Big Bend region did in Texas in the Chihuahuan Desert in southern Texas that shows Pallid bands actually drinking agave nectar. So I think it's in places where there are suitable like nocturnally Blooming flowers that maybe are close to the on the the character whether we call the what the carrot to Phylis pollination syndrome, flowers that are adapted for bat pollination. So in Baja, right, you've got a couple different columnar cacti but the Cardon being the dominant one but there's also Oregon pipe and and there's another species of Cardona in the southern part of the Baja Peninsula that are adapted for bat pollination because the lesser long nosed bats are there. So those they're opening at night, they're big, sturdy flowers with, you know, copious amounts of nectar. So, you know, I doubt that there's very much pollination or the nectar feeding behaviour happening further north just because there aren't the kinds of flowers that they'd be able to access. But we haven't we haven't actually looked I mean, I've I've there are some like in San Diego in places you get some ornamental Agave is an ornamental cactus and I've long wanted this to be go stick up some video cameras there and just see but haven't done it yet.Steve Roe:
Touching on the scorpions. Does anybody know how They manage immunity from scorpion stings. Presumably they do get stung by scorpions. From time to timeWinifred Frick:
they do get stung quite a bit and they are immune. And there was a recent paper on it that came out by some researchers showing that they were in fact immune, but I can't remember exactly. If they showed it like at a molecular that gets outside my like how the how you how you mounted immunity to that kind of toxin? Yeah.Steve Roe:
What are the dangers of working at night in the desert? What's it like to be a field ecologist out in the deserts of Mexico?Winifred Frick:
Well, we like to, we like to quote mad eye moody from Harry Potter and constant vigilance. They, it really you have to you do have to be aware of rattlesnakes and scorpions. Those are your big, those are your big threats. I mean, there's an island that we work on where they have a rattle as rattlesnake because it's evolved to you know, it's lost, its rattle. So we would we carry, you know, you, you're in a little bit more risk because you're hiking around at night, right. But I I've, I've done years of research out there. And we actually when I had my son 11 years ago, now he basically grew up and then going into the field with us, and that elevates your, your sense of care and risk a little bit. My job would be like, Well, if he survives his childhood, he'll have good stories to tell, you know. You've never been stung or bit. You didn't want it. By the time he was like three, when he was like three or four, we started actually collecting. We were doing working with some of the pilot bats and flight cages and we'd actually go out and collect scorpions to feed them and so I was feeling sort of badly that he he missed Easter and an Easter egg hunt when he was I can't remember I think it was either three or four. But then we ended up on Easter Day going out and hunting scorpions with UV lights. And he was learning to grab them with the pincher with the we use like these potato pot tongs and like well, this this beads are regular Easter glowing scorpions.Unknown:
Blimey, I mean, we moan when we set up a mist nets next to a nighttime hornet roost so we've got nothing to moan about over here really! And finally, what what do you think the future challenges to bat conservation? There's going to be Oh, constant vigilance. I think I mean, oftentimes, with conservation, I feel like we're in a race against time, right? We're in a great race against time with ourselves. I think climate change is a real is presents, you know, a real and imminent threat to many of our bat species, especially about species. We're already imperilled on islands. I think, you know, the what we're seeing in terms of the biodiversity loss and the loss of habitat around the world. And sort of this feeling of, you know, being on sort of this breaking point of, of the kind of impact that we're having is all is all true for for about conservation as well, I will say that I feel optimistic about the fact that I think COVID is has shown us that there's a there's a real sense of Sure, there was some scapegoating that happened. But But more than, than that, I saw the bat research and bat conservation community sort of really rise up and join to spread positive messages about bats. And I think that that was really receptive I mean, we got a lot of interest from around the world, from folks who really care and were really worried about bats, and really wanted to make sure that they were protected. And in going to be okay, through all of this when I take great, I think we have to we have to focus on the positive things and the things that we can do. I think that there's a lot of people working around the world to try to, to protect bats and protect wildlife and their habitats and that we need to focus on those, those positive things and the things that we can accomplish. So I think there's real threats out there. I think that there's a lot of need for urgent action, but I think there's a lot of encouraging things to have of awareness and dedication towards doing the things that we need to do. Dr. Winifred Frick, it's been an honour having you on. Thank you so much for your time.Winifred Frick:
Yes, my pleasure. Thank you so much.Unknown:
And you can follow Winifred, on her Twitter account. The link is in the show notes. That's it for this week, but a small request from us here at BatChat. If you're listening to us via the apple podcast app. We'd love to hear your views about the show using their ratings and reviews box. We'll be back in two weeks time. See you then.