Ticha Padgett-Stewart - July 2018

I am starting to wrap up my time in Australia and only have 2 more weeks of sampling to go! This winter sampling season has been an intense one, but I have learned so much about the ecology of flying foxes and problem solving for large, sampling intensive projects like this one. So far, one of the biggest challenges I have faced while I have been here is limited time for sample analysis, which has in turn forced the need for solutions in sample preservation. I have been preserving the fecal samples I collect in a formalin solution and using ethanol to preserve the ectoparasites I am collecting. I hope to go through and finish evaluating these samples once I am back in the US, but working on getting the permits sorted out to export these samples may take a bit of time.

While I have been short on lab time, I have been able to perform fecal float tests on some of the sample I have collected. So far, I have seen flukes, multiple types of nematodes and more tons of different eggs from helminths and other intestinal parasites in the fecal samples collected. In the field, I have also started seeing some interesting patterns emerging in which bats have heavier burdens of ectoparasites. Simply observationally, rural bats in the larger (20000 + individuals) more nomadic colonies have been less infested with bat flies than those in the smaller more urban colonies that have a resident population year-round. This is interesting, as flying foxes traditionally are more nomadic in nature and naturally tend not to roost in an area permanently. Its theorized that the smaller, more permanent roost are a product of reduced productive habitat patches and urbanization. When patches of native forest become too far apart for a bat to move freely between areas, they get stranded in more urban areas where people may be planting other flowering/fruiting trees that the bat feed on. These urban roosts represent a less ideal way of life for these bats which may reduce their health and potentially increase the number of parasites.

Flying foxes are hugely important animals, they are critical for both seed dispersal and pollination for the native forests of Australia, not to mention they are adorable up close. But unfortunately, much of the Australian public considers them a nuisance animal. So much so, that multiple times when conducting sampling in a park, people have come up and suggested that instead of releasing the animal, we kill it, or commented on how much they hate bats and believe that all bats should all be slaughtered. On the other side of the issue is a community of wildlife ‘carers’, who will rescue and rehabilitate flying foxes in their own homes. Flying foxes in Australia are just as much as, if not more, of a polarizing topic than the wolves in Yellowstone are. Working in a system so filled with contention has been eye-opening to me. Not everyone is as excited about conservation and nature as your average MSU student is. As someone who is passionate about ecology and lives on this planet, it has really inspired me to reach out and work towards informing the public about the benefit and necessity of intact and healthy ecosystems with all of their biotic and abiotic parts. I would even argue it’s a huge part of what any ecologists job is, is to not only perform good science, but to communicate it actively.

This summer has been a great experience for me and really helped to prepare me for graduate school. I hope to continue sample analysis throughout the fall and I hope to add another component to my project in the coming spring, using DNA sequencing to evaluate some of the intestinal protozoans that might be in the fecal samples I have collected through the course of this project. I will also have to be doing a lot of working learning new statistical analysis and brushing up on my R! I would like to thank Dr. Raina Plowright for opening the opportunity to me to be a part of the disease ecology lab and Devin Jones and Maureen Kessler, two of her PhD students for all their guidance and feedback that helped bring this project to fruition. I would also like to thank the Griffith University disease ecology lab for the partnership that has allowed this project to be possible. I am honored the Institute on Ecosystems offered me this grant and so thankful, as it has allowed me to have the experience of a lifetime chasing bats around Australia!

Image 1. Intestinal parasite, a trematode known as a fluke

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