Monday, July 31, 2017
NMSU professor, students assist with endangered bat species research
NMSU professor, students assist with endangered bat species research DATE: 07/31/2017 WRITER: Kristie Garcia, 575-646-4211, firstname.lastname@example.org CONTACT: Kathryn Stoner, 575-646-7051, email@example.com What do tequila and bats have in common? You may not think the two go together, but the Mexican long-nosed bat and agave plants have a unique connection. Agave plants are native to certain arid regions in Mexico and parts of the Southwestern United States. Mexican long-nosed bats – Leptonycteris nivalis – migrate from Central and Northern Mexico into the southern areas of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. This endangered bat, with a long nose and a fuzzy body, pollinates columnar cactuses and agave plants. And tequila is a Mexican liquor made from the blue agave, a succulent-type plant. “The bats’ migration up from Mexico is initiated by the corridor of the blooming agave and columnar cactus, which have the main food item – the flower nectar – these bats eat,” said Kathryn Stoner, professor and department head of the New Mexico State University Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology. “So, not only is this bat an endangered species, but it has economic value because it pollinates the tequila plant.” The Mexican long-nosed bat was listed as an endangered species in 1988 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and in 1991 under the Mexican Endangered Species Act. Stoner, a faculty member in the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, is part of the Nivalis Conservation Network, a binational group of researchers working to conserve this particular bat species. Bat Conservation International initiated this collaborative research effort last year. Earlier this month, Stoner and her graduate student, Scarlet Sellers, made their way to Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and down to Cueva del Infierno, a known L. nivalis cave. The purpose of the trip was to learn how to properly mark the bats in order to track their migratory patterns. Senior director of conservation science at BCI, Winifred Frick, showed Stoner and Sellers, as well as researchers from BCI, Texas, Universidad de Nuevo Leon and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the proper technique of pit-tagging the bats. “With the pit-tagging technique, you insert small pits under the skin with an injector,” Stoner said. “Because this is an endangered species, the marking of the bats requires special permits, so we wanted to be trained by the best.” Once the bats have been marked at locations such as Cueva del Infierno, the next step is for Nivalis Conservation Network researchers to track the bats at particular caves in their respective areas. For Stoner and Sellers, they will collect data from a cave in Southwestern New Mexico. So, how exactly do the researchers record the presence of these high-flying, strong, nocturnal creatures? They use a large rope antenna that is placed around the entrance and exit to the cave. “The rope antenna actually looks like a cable, and it’s connected to a data system that records a bat when it flies through,” Stoner said. “Having these bats marked – and we’re all making large efforts to mark many bats in each of our respective areas – we’re hoping that we’ll get a bat that flies into our cave that was marked in Cueva del Infierno, for example.” Rope antennae are also set up in caves in Big Bend, Texas, in Baja, California and in several locations in Mexico. The overarching goal of the collaborative effort is to determine the bats’ movement patterns, including arrival dates and departure dates, as well as location of origin. Sellers, who is pursing a master’s degree in wildlife sciences at NMSU, is specifically studying the diet of the Mexican long-nosed bat in New Mexico. Stoner said although bats mainly eat agave, the plant is scarce in New Mexico, and there are not any columnar cactuses in the area where these bats are in New Mexico, only in Arizona. NMSU student Rachel Burke is also studying under Stoner. Burke, who is pursuing a master’s degree in wildlife sciences like Sellers, has modeled the availability of food resources across the landscapes so researchers can recognize areas where L. nivalis may be found. “This will help us determine locations at which we can more carefully look for caves and roosting areas,” Stoner said. Stoner’s NMSU team has received help from several entities in support of bat research. “Locally, we’ve received funding from T&E, which is a nonprofit organization that funds ecological research, and many NMSU students receive funding from T&E,” she said. The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management’s Las Cruces District has also supported the Mexican long-nosed bat research effort. “The BLM has helped us significantly with our research,” Stoner said. “The local BLM office has helped us with the equipment. The equipment is on loan, but we can use it whenever we need to do our research on Leptonycteris.” This is a long-term research project. But in the end, Stoner and the research team hope to save the Mexican long-nosed bat, which may in turn help save the tequila.