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Pittsburg State University students monitor endangered bats

November 2, 2018

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — For some biology students at Pittsburg State University, bats are not just a creature that emerges around Halloween time.

In fact, students under the instruction of assistant biology professor Andrew George have been monitoring bat activity a few times every week since last spring, the Joplin Globe reported.

“Bats are amazing animals,” George said. “We have a lot to learn from bats.”

With help from a Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks & Tourism grant, George and his students are working to gather baseline data about the federally endangered gray bat population in Pittsburg, which can then be used in the future for further scientific studies.

Josh Holloway, senior biology major at PSU, said he goes to the bats’ roost a little before sunset one or two times a week and films the bat activity with an infrared video camera.

“We record until we no longer see a significant amount of bat activity,” he said, which usually happens an hour or so after sunset.

Then the students take the film back to their lab in Heckert-Wells Hall, where they play the video in slow motion and count how many bats exit and re-enter the roost, Holloway said. This gives the students an idea of the estimated population at each site.

The students also use harp traps, which are made of fishing line, to trap the bats and gather further biometric data, said Michael Barnes, PSU graduate student in the biology program.

“We want to get weights and sizes of the bats,” he said. “We also measure forearm lengths on bats because it can help identify the species. The more data we have, the more accurate we can be.”

Trapping the bats also allows the students to test for white-nose syndrome, Barnes said. A fungal disease that grows on bats while they hibernate, white-nose syndrome was first detected in New York in 2006 and has spread westward since.

“It’s been really devastating to some populations, wiping out entire colonies in the east,” George said. “Conservation agencies have been really concerned about it.”

White-nose was detected in Kansas for the first time this year, George said. The disease affects bats during the winter when they hibernate, causing them to wake up during hibernation and exhaust their energy storage.

Barnes said they may check bat wings for damage or inspect them under a black light to look for fungus.

“It’s good information to have,” Barnes said. “Any information we can get on endangered species like bats is great information.”

Students taking part in the study said working with the bats offers hands-on experience that could help them as they go on to look for careers.

“You have your own responsibilities to manage,” Holloway said. “It’s really good for a student, particularly those that are trying to develop skills later on for a job in the future. Hands-on experience is usually the best teacher.”

Holloway said his main area of interest is actually fish and aquatic biology, but being a part of this project has helped him expand his horizons.

“It’s always good to have new ideas,” he said. “It’s just a good experience that an undergraduate could get to work with an endangered species.”

Ryan McGinty, sophomore biology major, said he has enjoyed the chance to work on his own independent project within the larger project.

“Just working on projects semi-independently is something I haven’t really done before,” he said. “I’ve gained a lot of experience.”

For his project, McGinty is monitoring the data from several temperature loggers he placed in the bats’ roost.

“We want to make a temperature map of the roost just so we can see if the bats are picking where they’re roosting based on the temperature,” he said.

This project is particularly beneficial to his students because they have the opportunity to work with professionals in the actual biology field, he said.

“This is real science,” George said. “This isn’t just a canned lab activity or a simulated activity, they’re actually working on real science.”

Having contact with actual biologists in the field can help students in their search to find a future career, George said.

“Several of these students are biology majors and they want to be wildlife biologists,” he said. “They’re out there meeting the people who are going to hire them and getting great hands-on experience.”

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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