The 49th Annual North American Symposium on Bat Research was held in Kalamazoo, Michigan on October 23-26, 2019. It was hosted by Amy Russell and Maarten Vonhofm amidst a quintessential Midwestern autumn. There’s no better place to keep up with the latest bat research technologies and discoveries or for graduate students to explore career options. Many of the researchers attend every year, developing lasting friendships and invaluable networking opportunities. Not surprisingly, this is Merlin’s favorite group. He hasn’t missed a meeting in 49 years. This year, Merlin joined Brock and Sherri Fenton and Price Sewell in presenting an enthusiastically received pre-conference workshop on bat photography.
Merlin especially enjoys opportunities to encourage students in conservation-related careers and takes great pride in the achievements of those he has helped. Four joined Merlin for the organization’s annual “Lunch with a Mentor” program to discuss career path choices, conservation interests, and of course, to hear a few of Merlin’s wild adventure stories. They also got a perspective from Teresa who sat in on the meeting. (Check out Advice for Young People Interested in Science and Conservation)
Many attendees were happy to share insights on the needs of bats. Through his 60 years of experience Merlin of course has many to share. He is increasingly concerned that many of today’s bats have lost preferred habitats and are often barely surviving in marginal conditions, especially those required for hibernation. Such bats can be highly misleading when their choices mistakenly are assumed to represent true needs, leading to inappropriate conservation measures. He was encouraged to see rapidly growing awareness of the futility of stopping or curing white-nose syndrome (WNS). He praised growing efforts to reduce disturbance and restore hibernation conditions key to recovery. Where ideal caves have been protected from disturbance and restored to meet bat needs, signs of stabilization and recovery are increasingly reported. Merlin believes that the severity of WNS losses has been exacerbated by already existing stresses that reduced the energy reserves required to survive lengthy hibernation. He notes that many bats have lost traditionally critical hibernation caves, increasing both the cost of hibernation and migratory travel. Food resources and summer roosts are also in decline. And disturbance during hibernation has greatly increased at a time when bats can least afford it.
Looking forward to next year’s 50th NASBR in Arizona, see y’all there!