With Good Reason

Dogs, Chimps, and Bats, Oh My!
October 2nd, 2010

Dogs are man’s best friend, but why?  It’s a friendship that goes way back – possibly all the way back to prehistoric times.  Dog-owner and forensic scientist Darcy Morey (Radford University) traces the evolution of dogs back 15,000 years to the present and says ancient dog burials are proof that we’ve always had a soft spot for Fido.  Also featured: bats aren’t so scary — but they are mysterious.  Scientists are only just beginning to unravel how bats navigate and hunt in the dark using echolocation.  Paul Moosman (Virginia Military Institute) has developed a device that he can strap onto bats to record their night journeys.  And biologist Rick Sherwin (Christopher Newport University) joins the conversation to talk about a bat species that depend on access to abandoned mines for survival.  And finally: baby chimpanzees in the mountains of Tanzania are at risk of contracting human diseases.  Taranjit Kaur (Virginia Tech) lived with her family on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and used an innovative eco-friendly field lab to learn how to protect the chimps.

2 Responses to “Dogs, Chimps, and Bats, Oh My!”

  • While I it was wonderful to see bats receive some positive press during last night’s interview with Paul Moosman, I must take exception with his portrayal of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) as a malady introduced and being dispersed by cavers. While the transport of Geomyces spores on the clothing and equipment of cave explorers is certainly possible, there is little evidence that this has occurred. Indeed, were WNS to have arrived in the US via caver, there are many more likely landing sites than Albany, New York. Albany is a major deep water port near the upstream limit of navigation on the Hudson River, and the use of shipping containers as roost sites by bats is well documented. Furthermore, cavers from the Albany area visited Indiana caves en masse in 2007, the year of the initial WNS outbreak near Albany. Yet WNS has yet to appear in caves in Indiana. The patterns of dispersal of WNS follow documented bat migration routes, and, in Virginia and elsewhere, bats hibernating in caves and mines that are under lock and key are turning up with WNS. Nonhuman (bat to bat?) vectors of disease transmission clearly appear to be dominant.

    The caving community’s response to the WNS crisis has been overwhelmingly supportive of the bat population. Cavers are one of the main sources of volunteers helping to study and monitor WNS in Virginia and West Virginia, and cavers have altered their behavior through decontamination of gear, regionalization of caving activities, outreach within the caving community, and continued avoidance of bat roost sites. While it is true that bat populations in the past have suffered from winter hibernation site disturbance by humans, the construction of the bat-friendly gates to protect these sites has relied heavily on caver volunteers.

    More about WNS can be learned from the National Speleological Society website: http://www.caves.org/WNS/

    White Nose Syndrome is an unprecedented wildlife tragedy that may have broad, negative ecological repercussions. However, targeting the caving community as a scapegoat for WNS is highly counterproductive. More than ever, bats need friends and, for the most part, cavers continue to be among the best friends bats have.

    Wil Orndorff, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and Director, Virginia Speleological Survey

  • Wil is right, WNS could have been introduced by some other means than contaminated caving gear. I shouldn’t have implied that the caving community is to blame. As any bat biologist will tell you, the caving community has been a crucial part of cave conservation efforts, including the current response effort to WNS. The truth is (if WNS was introduced), it also could have been brought over by biologists. Before WNS, how many people had enough foresight to decontaminate their gear? That lesson has only been learned in hindsight. If it was brought over by some other means, such as shipping, it’s even harder to imagine how this would have been avoided. What’s clearly more important now is to figure out how to reduce the effects of WNS now that it is here.

    Paul Moosman

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