Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dispatches from the 2009 North American Symposium on Bat Research

I just returned from the 2009 North American Symposium on Bat Research, held in - where else? - Portland, Oregon. I know I usually see myself as more of a herpetologist, but some recent work I've been doing on malaria parasites in bats prompted this westward trek to meet other bat biologists and return to my roots (my undergrad advisor, Roy Horst, was one of the founders of the society and my first grad project was on Trinidadian bats with Jerry Wilkinson). A few highlights from these meetings: Aaron Corcoran, a grad student at Wake Forest gave a nice paper describing some very cool experiments that show that tiger moths use "clicks" that they make to jam up the echolocation of big brown bats and avoid predation. That project was published in Science this summer. Sharlene Santana, a student at UMass Amherst demonstrated the spread of the Anthony "Biteforce" Herrel cult, by giving a talk about plasticity in bite force in frugivorous neotropical bats, an evolutionary trend that she suggests contributed to their notable diversification. I gave a talk in a special session on "Health and Disease" in bats and one of my (other) favorites in that session was by Daniel Streicker from the University of Georgia who gave some really nice estimates of rabies virus transmission between species of bats within a community using coalescent-based model approaches, showing that bats are more likely to infect phylogenetically related species, but at unequal rates. Elizabeth Clare, from Guelph, used DNA barcoding (duh - she's at Guelph!) of guano to generate some very intriguing data about resource partitioning in two (to eight - she had somewhat smaller datasets for another six) species of sympatric bats. And the last talk that I got to see before having to run off to catch a plane was by Robert Baker, of Texas Tech, who summarized three important types of speciation in bats - ecological, hybrid and adaptive radiations and gave examples of each. Baker, answering his own question, "Genetics, what have you done for bats lately?" suggested that the number of species of bats may soon increase by as much as 50% just due to better studies of molecular variation in cryptic and hybrid species. The North American Society of Bat Researchers is certainly all like a big family to each other and it was nice to crash their annual reunion.

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