Hired as a Guest Scientist in the Geologists-in-the-Parks Program, Dr. Laura Heiker works at Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve. She comes from a growing cadre of young yet experienced chiroptologists (scientists who study bats) now in high demand in small learning and research centers with limited staff qualified to assess bat data. Laura fits the bill as she has had extensive experience in China, Colorado, and now in southwestern Oregon in both bat netting and acoustic data gathering and analysis.
Starting with banding in the 1950s, Oregon Caves has one of the best researched bat colonies in the western part of North America and is the apparent home to the bat harp net. In order to be both more inclusive now but less intrusive when white-nose syndrome (WNS) arrives, the park is now trying to tie cave data to acoustics and bat populations on the preserve, a unit which has expanded the park acreage more than 8 times since just a few years ago when the preserve was created. Another goal is to gather bat biometric data (physical and behavioral information) in conjunction with other researchers and land managers to test elevation diversity and other hypotheses that, if valid, predict western bat species will have lower mortality rates from WNS than eastern bats.
Laura also took on the daunting task this summer of paring down by at least three quarters a voluminous “encyclopedia” that covered nearly all published research on WNS. Much had to be discarded or highly condensed when it became apparent that bat immunity and other metabolic aspects differ from better known groups, like mice and humans. There also was just too much information to be readable. It’s now evident that Psuedogymnoascus destructans (Pd) – the fungus that causes WNS- is such a unique pathogen that only comparisons with Pd’s genetically closest relatives may have much value.
Through funding by the park’s natural history association, the once massive document, now divided into topical units with summaries, key findings, and questions/future directions, is being edited separately in Google Docs by an eco-immunologist, a mycologist and two bat ecologists. Work has also started on adding annotations to about 500 of the most important citations from ~5,000 references in the gray and published literature. Eventually the documents will be edited by members of the appropriate WNS working groups if they so desire, pared down again, and recombined with extensive hyperlinks, easy to use database searches, a reduced glossary, and the ability to update for those willing to make contributions to the endeavor. National Park Service WNS funding will fuel this project through all of next year.