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Friday, October 25, 2019

OF BATS, POOP AND RESEARCH: AN INTERVIEW!

OF BATS, POOP AND RESEARCH: AN INTERVIEW!
(in Eng?ish)

(Craving for more crazy interviews? Go here, here & here!)  

The interview opens with PiPs dressed like a Batman form the ‘70 clearly running away, with the spirited eyes of a scared to death idiot character of a dumb blog, from hundreds of wildly crazy-enthusiast super-cute bats hunting it for an autograph, and from a raging mob of balloons of different sizes, shapes and colors filled with “KA-POW!”, its little brother “POW!”, ”SMOK!”, ”BAM!”, ”SWOOSH!”, the antsy "GASP!" and the terrible unforgiving ”THWACK!” (which sounds a bit like a mix of Clint Eastwood’s look after he finds out that the last spoon of his favorite ice cream flavor has been kidnapped by a fake scout who in reality is a middle aged short fella with the worst case of halitosis in the recent history of medicine and who profoundly dislikes Spaghetti Western and muscle cars with an Italian city in their names, aaand Chewbecca “singing” a Skrillex track at the top of its lungs) which - the mob - wants its six months overdue paycheck.

PiPs on the run chased by bats and balloons (by @sciencemug)
The Batman logo on the "chest" of PiPs comes from a free photo by Henry & Co. and the bats come from a free photo by Rinck Content Studio; both pics are adapted by @sciencemug. Source of both pics: Unsplash

Eventually PiPs manages to lose the balloons by distracting them with the cardboard cutout of a sexy Cat Woman chasing a spot of light, but not the bats, and, while hiding behind the url of the Wikipedia page of baobabs covered by a purple anti-biosonar cloak made in Jokerland, notices a man who follows the bats who, in turn, notices it:
PiPs- Man, please – PiPs says terrified - don’t tell ‘em I’m here, if I sign another autograph I’m going to loose my arm, and therefore my armpit, and thus my deodorant sponsorship thanks to which I can afford to pay the rent to live in this lousy blog… By the way, who are you? And most importantly, do you know what those things are, some sort of furry UFOs (or, as they’re called now, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) with an insane passion for cheap vintage tv-shows maybe?

Jason Preble- My name is Jason Preble, I’m a PhD student at the Kyoto University, and those are not things, they are bats, the only mammals capable of true flight [by the way you, dear human reader, are a mammal too, you know, just a reminder... Note of SM] . More precisely they are a couple of species of bats which ecology (N1) I’m studying: the Ryukyu tube-nosed bat and Yanbaru whiskered bat. They only live in the remaining forests of three islands at the far southwest end of Japan: Okinawa, Tokunoshima, and Amami-Oshima.

Two bats chatting about Batman
The black bat (on the left) is the Yanbaru whiskered bat, the brown bat (on the right) is the Ryukyu tube-nosed bat [Credits: original pics (one of each bat) by Jason Preble (adapted by @sciencemug)]

PiPsP- I see, I see… So, being from Japan, besides DC Comics they’re probably into manga too… Well I guess, then, it’ll be safer for me to choose a zombee costume for Halloween, as I don’t recall any comics or manga ‘bout zombees. Or maybe I should wear the tragic mask, only few know about, of Rusty, the Tap-dance shoe which becomes a drunkard (and eventually decides to end itself by buying a particularly keen on footwear St. Bernard puppy) after its dream of becoming a spy is broken because of its inborn inability to be noiseless…
Anyway Sir, why on Earth are you chasing them?

Jason PrebleJP- These bats are considered endangered, meaning that
they are at risk of extinction, but very little is known about them. I have been catching, measuring, and tracking these bats for about two years to figure out how they live their lives and how best to conserve them and their habitat.


PiPsP- Ok, I get it, it’s important to learn stuff on these animals to save them from disappearing and preserve their specific piece of world. But, well, I mean, why to study their poop? Look, don’t get me wrong, my boss, this blog, is all about poop, not only ‘cause its a “poopy” blog (as in crappy), but also ‘cause it covered with ease the poop topic other times.
But, in your case, why don’t you, I dunno, just collect some blood samples, or some fur to analyze, like the CSI guys do with hairs to check if somebody is doping or else, or, maybe you simply go to them, have a cup of tea and just listen to what they have to say about life, eating insects, being constantly harassed by Miss Garlic and Mr Woodenstake (well-known bats stalkers), or whether sleeping upside-down make to wish them “sweet-dreams” in fact something that provokes nightmares instead?

Jason PrebleJP- If I were trying to figure out the genetics of the bats themselves, I could collect blood (and actually, I do collect small wing tissue samples for this purpose). However, in my current study, I’m trying to figure out what these bats eat, and to do this, I need to dig into their poop. I can extract DNA from the bat poop and then analyze it using a method called “DNA metabarcoding(N2) to identify what insects and other arthropods (N3) were eaten. Once I know what these bats eat, that will also give me clues as to where they eat. For example, if I find a lot of insects that emerge from streams, I can surmise that the bat was foraging over a waterway. Foraging habitat is the second-most important habitat for bats after roost sites, so being able to identify and protect foraging habitats is key to conserving bats.

Two bats chatting about Batman
Same bats of before [Credits: original pics (one of each bat) by Jason Preble (adapted by @sciencemug)]

PiPsP- Ok, got it! Now let’s talk about money. How do you plan to fund your research project? I guess you’ve already considered asking for a sponsorship to DC Comics and/or Stoker’s heirs. But my humble suggestion is that you contact also the diapers industry guys and see if they are interested in investing some bucks on a research that, as a byproduct, could provide useful data about something that they are for sure considering to develop: a diaper for flying animals that would solve once and for all the long-standing issue of humans-and-their-cars being random targets of number-two bombs from high up… It’s worth a shot, trust me!

Jason PrebleJP- Hm… well the catching, tracking, and poop collecting parts of my research were supported by research grants. However, I still need funds to actually analyze the poop that I have collected, and am currently running a crowdfunding campaign through to solve this. Thanks to generous backers, we’ve raised about 60% of the target goal, and if we can reach 100% in the next two weeks, I will be able to extract DNA from the poo I have collected and identify these bats’ diets.

PiPsP- Well Sir, thank you so much for your time, the @sciencemug gang wish you all the best for your project and career. But before leaving, jut one last question: Mr. Jason Preble, why science?

Jason PrebleJP- My main interests lie in conservation, making sure that the species we share the Earth with now will continue to share the Earth with future generations. Science is a means to that end. Science is how we figure out what’s going on with bats, or plants, or any other organism, and how we figure out the best way to conserve them.
Being mostly small, nocturnal, fast, and fairly silent, people don’t often notice bats, but they are very important members of our ecosystem and they’re almost everywhere! Since they are often associated with scary things like vampire imagery, they don’t get as much love as they deserve, so thank you very much for your interest!


The ‘Researcher Suggests’ corner:

Jason  Preble
Jason Preble

JP- If you are at all interested, please check out my crowdfunding page.
Unfortunately, there is very little known about the bats I study, so there aren’t many other resources I can recommend. However, you can read more about my research on the crowdfunding page, and I will keep updating it with more lab notes.
You could also check out the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature (N4) Note of SM] Red List assessments (N5) for the Ryukyu tube-nosed bat and Yanbaru whiskered bat, and our research group’s wesbite, the Island Bat Research Group.
I’ll also put in some links for websites with some general bat information and pretty pictures:
- Nat Geo article on bats
- Bat Conservation International
- Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation 


NOTES of SM
(If something's wrong here, blame it on this dumb blog, not on the researcher)

N1- To understand what to study the ecology of an animal species mean, dear reader, let’s see what ecology is: ecology is the branch of biology that studies “the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment; it seeks to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them. Ecology also provides information about the benefits of ecosystems and how we can use Earth’s resources in ways that leave the environment healthy for future generations. (ref)

N2- DNA metabarcoding is not (at least not yet...) a new dystopian way to check a customer out at the register of a supermarket, but it is a method used by researchers to identify species. It “refers to the automated identification of multiple species from a single bulk sample containing entire organisms or from a single environmental sample containing degraded DNA (soil, water, faeces, etc.). It can be implemented for both modern and ancient environmental samples.” (ref)


A Ryukyu tube-nosed bat on a tree
A Ryukyu tube-nosed bat [Credits: original pic by Jason Preble (adapted by @sciencemug)]

N3- In the way living things are classified, the phylum is one “level” above the class, so a phylum can include several classes, but a class belongs to just one phylum. Given that, an arthropod (animal of the Arthropoda phylum) stands to an insect (animal of the Insecta class) as a chordate stands to a mammal. In other words a spider is an arthropod, like an ant, but an ant is an insect, while a spider isn’t. Similarly a shark is a chordate, like a dolphin, but a dolphin’s a mammal, while the shark isn’t.
And, of course, luckily for y’all, a PiPs is (only) a PiPs.

N4- ICNU is “a membership Union [created in 1948] uniquely composed of both government and civil society organisations. It provides public, private and non-governmental organisations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together.” (ref)

N5- The IUCN Red List “measures the change of global diversity and acts to conserve that biodiversity through assessments of individual species and identifying and carrying out actions to address concerns. Species assessments evaluate the chances of extinction in the foreseeable future based on past and expected future trends. They help to prioritize where action is most urgently needed and also to identify the major threats.” (ref)

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