Notes from the field: Palo Verde – The last few weeks

I sip my morning coffee as I look out over the wetland in Parque Nacional Palo Verde.

Palo Verde rapidly drying
Palo Verde rapidly drying

Everyday I see the water line retreating, as much as a meter per day. This year in Palo Verde has been exceptionally dry and water has been extremely limited.The rainy season was short and light and many small water sources have dried months before they normally would.

Over these past weeks we have been traveling all over the park in search of water. With the help from my lovely field assistants we have been fairly successful in finding some great netting locations, given the circumstances.

Katherine looking for bats inside a cave nearby.
Katherine looking for bats inside a cave nearby.

We have been near and far, netting at a small (1 x 1m) concrete water hole near the comedor to netting inside of the wetland. We have been netting in bat caves and deep within the forest.

At first, the lack of water was discouraging as I was not catching as many bats as I had hoped and we almost felt like “what’s the point”. However, my first field assistant of the season, Alvaro, changed my attitude when he said to me  “The worst kind of try is to not try.” He was right and this situation was an ideal opportunity for us to try new netting techniques and explore the park! So, that has been our motto throughout this field season and has motivated us to conduct our research in many areas around the park and try some unconventional and sometimes “crazy” techniques, and sometimes it is has paid off. We have been lucky enough to catch one of my favorite bats, the Wrinkle-faced bat (Centurio senex) and film another very special bat Vampyrum spectrum feeding!

Centurio senex
Centurio senex

Every night we have been working hard mist-netting until about 10pm and then we will usually film until 2 or 3 in the morning. It has been exhausting, but rewarding and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I really have to thank all of the people at OTS (Organization for Tropical Studies) and the hard work of my field assistants for all of their help. My assistants, who would stay up with me until 2 am waiting for the katydids to emerge for the night so I could feed them to bats or who would spend days repairing (sewing) our mist-nets so we could keep catching bats every night. Without them I could not have kept going this hard for five weeks. Thank you Sergio Padilla Alvarez, Alvaro Cerdas Cedeño, Katherine Díaz and Luis Girón!!!


Notes from the Field: Palo Verde – The first week

Life of Palo Verde: A few of the amazing species we have seen.

Hot. Dry. We are driving down a dirt and gravel road that leads deep into Palo Verde National Park. The dust is so thick that we slow to less than 15 kilometers per hour so we don’t hit anything.

These first few days in Costa Rica, in San Jose, have been stressful, but I let out a sigh of relief to know that at last I was on my way to my field site. I came to Palo Verde to investigate how bats use behavioral manipulation of their nose leaf (in Phyllostomidae) and ears to find prey items. I want to compare if different species use different behavioral movements of the nose leaf and ears when searching for prey. Once at Palo Verde Biological station we settled in and prepared for our first night of mist-netting.

Vampyrum spectrum
Holding Vampyrum spectrum

Palo Verde is a tropical dry forest on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. I first visited about a year ago when I took an OTS course and I knew I wanted to come back because the diversity of bats you can catch here is amazing.

On the first and second night out we were so lucky to have caught a False Vampire bat (Vampyrum spectrum) each night. This rare bat has a wing span of up to 2ft and feeds on insects and other vertebrates. While this species was particularly exciting to catch, we were also astounded to catch more than 15 different species in the first week.

For some individuals, we have been trying to record high-speed video from bats inside a flight enclosure. Like most live and wild animals they seldom behave how you would like them to. There have been many nights we have sat silently in the dark for hours waiting for that bat who will be our star pupil.

Protection from the mosquitoes
Protection from the mosquitoes

At times the field work can be extremely arduous and sometimes very uncomfortable. For example, at night it is 75 degrees with 75 % humidity and I have to bundle up from head to toe to protect myself from the mosquitoes. But, being able to see the biological diversity in this extreme habitat is really something wonderful.

Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) Meeting 2015

SICB is one of my favorite scientific conferences to attend. Amazing scientists from all of the world come together to share their research. This meeting really has something for everyone: ecology, evolution, phylogenetics, biomechanics, as well as much more and most work incorporates multiple fields listed. I highly recommend that all biologists (in any form) attend this meeting at least once in their career.

I had the opportunity to present some of my preliminary research on the morphology of the nose leaves and ears of phyllostomid bats. Take a look at my poster!


Out of OUR Element: Students & Science Communication

Some of the OTS students-bird watching

I wanted to share a link to a National Geographic blog that features the OTS (organization for tropical studies) course I was a part of in Costa Rica.  In this class we had the opportunity to work closely with two great film producers, Nate Dappen and Neil Losin, founders of Day’s Edge Production. Together we explored the different mediums of science communication, particularly photography and film making. Featured in this article, Out of their Element, are the short films our class turned out in just a few days! Through this experience I have learned how much power each of us has through sharing our research experiences and the amazing things we discover, especially if we can do it in a creative way.

Check out- Out of their Element and tell us what you think!

Not your mama’s nose leaves

As I progress through my first quarter as an RA I find myself busy with writing grant proposals, trouble shooting equipment and diving into the black hole of literature on the subject of sensory ecology. There is never enough time or brain capacity for all those papers…

Aside from all that, I have been experimenting with some new methods for my future project. With the help of our awesome lab manager Abby, we have been taking bat heads and producing high quality scans of some of the sensory structures (nose leaves, ears, etc.). Recently, I have focused on scanning the nose leaves of some phyllostomid bats in our microCT scanner. Phyllostomids (Phyllostomidae), Neotropical leaf-nosed bats, are a wonderfully ecologically diverse group of bats of the Neotropics. Phyllostomids are unlike most bats in that they emit echolocation calls through their nasal cavity, not orally, and posses a conspicuous nose leaf on their nares (see first photo). Diet of various species consists of everything from insects, fruit, nectar, vertebrates and blood. Their sensory structures, such as ears and nose leaves, are diverse in size and shape. I am extremely interested in how the variation in morphology, the form of a structure, in this group of bats influences their ecology.

This is really great because I can get 3D models of the structures that I can use to look for differences between species!

Phyllostomus hastatus-omnivore
Photo credit: Maël Dewynter

Check out it!

Artibeus lituratus-frugivore
Carollia perspicillata-frugivore