Friday, January 23, 2015

Grad Publications: Dave Slager, C.J. Battey

            As those who attended the Klicka lab talks at last year's GSS might remember, the family Vireonidae encompasses about 52 species of birds distributed throughout the tropical and temperate Americas.  Vireonids are small- to medium-sized arboreal songbirds with a thick and slightly hooked bill.  Many species are omnivorous with a predominantly greenish or yellowish plumage.  The family has traditionally been divided into 4 genera:  Peppershrikes (genus Cyclarhis), Shrike-Vireos (Vireolanius), Vireos (Vireo), and Greenlets (Hylophilus).

With the exception of its starkly colored irides, the White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus) is a rather typical vireonid.  It breeds in scrubby forest edge and understory in the eastern United States and northeastern Mexico and winters on the Gulf Coast and Caribbean Islands. © David L. Slager, 6 May 2013, Lucas County, Ohio, USA.

            Until now, the few molecular phylogenetic studies examining the history of Vireonidae have sampled only a small number of taxa, preventing detailed inference about the family's evolutionary history.  By contrast, we were able to sample mitochondrial and nuclear genes from 221 individuals representing 46 of 52 vireonid species, enabling us to break much new ground in understanding the evolutionary history of this important clade.
            Among several key results we (including fellow biograd C.J. Battey!) recently published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution was our finding that the New World Vireonidae is monophyletic group, consistent with a single colonization of the Americas from an Asian ancestor.  We also found preliminary evidence for the existence of several cryptic species in the Neotropics and noted that tropical vireonids contain greater intraspecific genetic diversity on average than their temperate counterparts.  This trend is consistent with data from other bird families, and suggests that regional taxonomic bias or biological processes such as higher tropical speciation rates may be driving the pattern.
            Our phylogeny contradicted the traditional taxonomy of Vireonidae in important ways.  Most notably, we found that the 15 greenlet species in the genus Hylophilus (sensu lato) are not closely related to each other but fall into 4 different clades.  In an attempt to clean up this taxonomic mess, we published a follow-up paper in Zootaxa revising the genus-level taxonomy of the greenlets so that genera reflect monophyletic groups.  We proposed keeping the pale-eyed, scrub-dwelling greenlets in Hylophilus, moving the dark-eyed, canopy-dwelling greenlets to the old genus Pachysylvia, moving Tepui Greenlet to Vireo, and transferring the unique understory-dwelling Tawny-crowned Greenlet into the new genus Tunchiornis.

The canopy-dwelling Rufous-naped Greenlet (Hylophilus semibrunneus) is a core member of mixed-species foraging flocks in subtropical forests of the northern Andes.  Our revised taxonomy places it in the genus Pachysylvia to reflect the fact that it and other canopy-greenlets are only distantly related to the scrub- and understory-dwelling greenlets. © David L. Slager, 7 February 2011, Jericó, Antioquia, Colombia.

            Switching topics away from vireos, a molecular phylogeny of the New World sparrows published in the Klicka lab in early 2014 showed that the American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) is not related to the other species of Spizella sparrows, but rather represents its own lineage with a long, independent evolutionary history.  In our Zootaxa paper, we reviewed the taxonomic and phylogenetic placements of the American Tree Sparrow to date and described a new genus, Spizelloides, for the American Tree Sparrow to allow modern taxonomies to more closely reflect its evolutionary relationships.
            That's all for now.  You'll have to come to GSS this spring to hear what's up next!



Slager, D.L., Battey, C.J., Bryson, R.W. Jr., Voelker, G. and J. Klicka. 2014. A multilocus phylogeny of a major New World avian radiation: The Vireonidae. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 80:95-104.

Slager, D.L. and J. Klicka. 2014a. A new genus for the American Tree Sparrow (Aves: Passeriformes: Passerellidae). Zootaxa 3821:398-400.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Grad Publication: Elli Theobald and Lauren DeBey

Earth is in the middle of one of the largest biodiversity crises in history. Scientists not only have an obligation to document and understand the consequences of this loss, but also address these global changes with new and sustainable solutions. However, this research requires large quantities of data on how the genetic, taxonomic and functional composition of communities is changing over space and time. For example, accurately observing and understanding climate change-induced latitudinal shifts in species distributions may require collecting data across thousands of kilometers. Citizen science has been proposed as a mechanism to gather large volumes of spatio-temporally extensive biodiversity data while simultaneously integrating public outreach into research. Consequently, there has been a proliferation of citizen science programs and similar partnerships between scientists and non-scientists; however, the efficacy of these programs in quantifying biodiversity has not been evaluated.

In our paper “Global Change and Local Solutions: Tapping the unrealized potential of citizen science for biodiversity research” we focus on this critical question facing biodiversity research in the 21st century: can the ballooning global human population be harnessed to effectively contribute to biodiversity research, and specifically to conservation and global change impacts? 

Volunteers counting birds with Christmas Bird Count.

To answer this question we used seven citizen science web-based clearinghouses (together listing more than 500 programs) to create a single database of biodiversity citizen science programs. We considered only programs that focus on biodiversity (defined as documenting the occurrence of taxonomically identified organisms across space and time) and incorporate scientific inquiry (defined as collecting quantifiable information related to a specific issue or question). Thus, in our paper, we provide the first comprehensive and quantitative review of the extent, efficacy, and quality of biodiversity citizen science data. 

Volunteers doing a “BioBlitz” on Cal’s Living Roof Project.
Within the projects we sampled, 1.3 million volunteers participate in biodiversity monitoring, contributing $1.5 billion in-kind annually. We show that the explosive growth in citizen science matches or exceeds scientific interest in biodiversity and global change drivers and shows no signs of declining. Current projects target all vertebrate classes, five major invertebrate phyla, diverse plant families, bacteria, fungi, and even protozoa. We demonstrate that a majority of citizen science projects have a larger spatial extent and higher longevity than most ecological research projects; and that one third have data that are readily available, verifiable, and collected via a standardized, written protocol. Despite these indications of rigor and relevance to biodiversity science, only 12% of projects had Web of Science searchable publications. We conclude that biodiversity science must embrace citizen science as a viable means of data collection, or risk alienating the public that we, as scientists, seek to educate and inform. 

The seven citizen science clearinghouses we searched to create the single database we used in our analysis.

The paper is co-authored by bio-grads Elli. Theobald*, Lauren DeBey, former bio-grad Ailene Ettinger*, and Hillary Burgess, Natalie Footen, Halley Froehlich, Cherie Wagner, Janneke HilleRisLambers, Josh Tewksbury, Melanie Harsch, and Julia Parrish. (*indicates equal contribution)

Check out our whole paper here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Fresh Insights into UW Biology: Part 1, 2015 edition!

These blurbs are meant to better introduce our department’s newest members. the 1st year grads, and allow them to share their thoughts on the Biology Department and UW so far. Thanks to everyone for helping me with this post! – Chris Wells (fellow 1st year grad and blogger).

Ethan Linck is interested in avian phylogenetics and the biogeography of sky island systems, mountains isolated by drastically different lowlands. He chose to come to UW because he had spent two summers doing fieldwork for UW Biology graduate students, who spoke incredibly high of the department and did “cool stuff”. He also wanted to work with John Klicka, whose interests were a close match to his own, all while being affiliated with an active natural history museum (the Burke). He says “no other school could match UW for the enthusiasm, friendliness, and well-adjustedness of its graduate students or replicate the general warm-and-fuzzies” he felt on reflection. Another bonus: The North Cascades. Ethan finds the department to be collegial, collaborative, and challenging, while still allowing for lots of freedom and even a little fun.

William King chose UW for its strength in ecology and its general good vibe. The scientists here “balance research and life outside of work, which makes for an enjoyable department atmosphere.” He has found working in the department to be mentally challenging and invigorating. Will is interested in understanding the effects of temperature change on ecological communities and the mechanisms at different biological scales driving those effects. His study system is the rocky intertidal zone, particularly at UW’s marine lab, Friday Harbor, and the benthic invertebrates that exist there. Will works in Ken Sebens’ lab.

As a rotation student, Gideon Dunster, is still seeking out his research niche. He came to UW interested in pursuing research in neurobiology, physiology, microbiology, or genetics. To date, he’s worked in labs investigating molecular models of circadian rhythms, the effect of sleep cycles on academic performance, and the physics of muscle contraction. He came to the UW because, out of all the schools he interviewed at, this department was the most impressive. “It wasn't just that the people were smart and the department was well published, it was that everybody was so kind and down-to-earth in a way that can be unique for a highly accomplished group of researchers”. Gideon finds the department “simply a delight” to work for. He says he’s been given great opportunities as a rotation student and has been given a lot of agency to work out his own path. The faculty and staff have been hugely supportive and his fellow graduate students have been “wonderful comrades”.

 Megan Whitney chose UW because of the professional and personal community that was apparent during her interview. She loves the high level of interdisciplinary work conducted within the department as well as throughout the campus. The department has lived up to her expectations. Her first quarter was “incredibly busy, but very rewarding and a lot of fun!” Megan is in Christian Sidor’s lab studying vertebrate paleontology. Specifically she’s interested in major anatomical and physiological shifts in therapsids, the ancestors of mammals.

Meredith Bache-Wiig is generally interested in developmental biology and likes to think about how minute changes in genes and proteins can cause dramatic phenotypic differences. She’s currently rotating in Barbara Wakimoto’s lab and recently worked with David Parichy. She chose to come to UW because of the “really strong culture of interdisciplinary thinking”. Edith finds UW to be both challenging and fun. She particularly enjoys the other students in her cohort. She enjoys the opportunity to push herself mentally and is excited to see what’s down the road.

Katie Stanchak will be studying mammalian evolution and skeletal biomechanics in Sharlene Santana's lab. She’s especially interested in the wide variety of dietary specializations in mammals and how skeletal adaptations have contributed to this diversity. She was attracted to UW Biology by the open and collaborative nature of the department that was evident during the recruitment weekend. The Cascades are a nice bonus, too! So far, Katie has found grad school to be challenging, but exciting. She’s been impressed by how welcoming all of the faculty, staff, researchers, and other graduate students have been, and enjoyed the opportunity to explore many aspects of biology as she narrows her own research interests. 

Now a little about me. I chose UW to work with my advisor, Ken Sebens, an expert on my research interest: sea anemones! I’m interested in looking at the aggregation behavior of subtidal sea anemones in Puget Sound. I love the amazing resources here, especially Friday Harbor. The collaborative nature and the general warmth and welcoming of the department has been amazing. The department makes a great effort to make certain that first year grads feel welcome to the department. I’ve particularly loved the ecoseminar here, where I’ve been able to rub shoulders with top ecologists, discussing the intricacies of ecology as it develops.

Matt McElroy: Notes from the field

“Hola!” from Mt. Guilarte, Adjuntas, Puerto Rico

Panoramic view from Mt Guillarte.
I’m up here in the central mountains of Puerto Rico rocking my Darwinners T-shirt and Seahawks beanie for the start of the Seattle Seahawks playoff run. It just started pouring rain – so work is on hold! I just returned to Puerto Rico from the SICB conference in Palm Springs, where I presented a chapter from my dissertation and whooped on Hilary Hayford, Leith Miller, and Matt George in dice. Repeatedly. Now I’m working with Prof. Paul Hertz (Barnard University), graduate students Luisa Otero (Univ. Puerto Rico) and Sophia Prado-Irwin (SF State University), as well as undergraduate students Richard Portilla (Hunter College, CUNY), Ashley Brown (Barnard), and Hannah Dale (Barnard).
Me and Paul.
Paul Hertz worked on the thermal biology of Puerto Rican anoles for his dissertation in the 70’s and is a legit Professor of Lizard Proctology. Together with Paul, we are resurveying three species at some of his former study sites to look for changes in thermal biology due to climate change. Paul’s method uses copper models that are shaped like lizards to measure the operative body temperatures that are available for lizards. We are then able to compare the body temperatures of live lizards to the operative temperatures to test hypothesis about behavioral thermoregulation.

Luisa taking an anolis gundlachi body temperature.

Anolis gundlachi.

I’ve worked with Paul in Puerto Rico many times over the last few years. The way he tells it - I’m stealing his dissertation. For his dissertation, Paul worked on thermal biology and adaptation of anoles along elevational gradients, however, the myriad of genomic tools that we phylogeneticists use today didn’t exist yet. My dissertation also focuses on thermal adaptation along climatic gradients, but my phylogenetic/genomic approach builds on his classic work. Its not stealing if I cite it, Paul! After I finish helping Paul and his crew I will spend two weeks collecting Anolis cristatellus, A. stratulus, and A. pulchellus along elevational and thermal gradients to test hypotheses about thermal adaptation, phylogeographic structure, and gene flow. 


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Living the Atheist Hoax

      Last week I had a bit of a surprise waiting in my inbox. It was a message from a co-conspirator, "Dr." Greg Wilson, that we had been caught white-handed in our atheist hoax. Our nightmare became real, and we were exposed.
      An incriminating photograph taken in Montana in 2013 shows Greg and myself using plaster of Paris to create a dinosaur bone. Dinosaurs are one of the best tools we of the evolutionist/secular/atheist super-crew use to gobble up kiddos for indoctrination. I feel like an idiot for wearing such a blatant shirt, but honestly, I never thought this photo would surface.
      What's worse is that we were also caught trying to brainwash capable K-12 educators we had tricked into joining us through the DIG Field School. We were also joined by a young clone of Joe Felsenstein, seeking eternal earthly life.


        Okay, enough garbage. I am not sure how I feel about this image. At first I was amused, but over time it has just become sort of a bummer. Sitting in a biology department in Seattle I don't often enough confront the anti-science mindset that is so thoroughly spread around much of our society. The group that made this may just be a group of internet trolls trying to stir up trouble, but their 'message' will still resonate with some of the populace-- and that is cause for concern. Mull it over as you spread out over the country for the holidays.

Gallup's long-running Human Origins question for the American public, with this summer's data.

        On a lighter note, the dinosaur bone that we are JACKETING FOR TRANSPORT TO THE BURKE MUSEUM IN SEATTLE is the very large scapula (or shoulder-blade) of a Triceratops from the Hell Creek Formation, aged to just over 66 million years. This bone, and many others, have been collected by groups of primary and secondary educators who have come to Montana to learn about the scientific method, geology, evolution, and paleontology from Greg and his students. I have had the pleasure of acting as a field assistant for the DIG (Discoveries in Geosciences) Field School for multiple summers and it is an absolute delight to spend time with eager teachers who go home excited and ready to discuss evolution, deep time, and science with their classes. If you know an educator who needs an enrichment course point them to the DIG Field School!

~Brandon Peecook

Monday, December 1, 2014

GCC: A scientific conference for graduate students, by graduate students.

Ocean chemist, meet atmospheric dynamicist; Salmon biologist, meet environmental lawyer. Now that we’re all friends, let’s get started.

I recently had the opportunity to help organize the Graduate Climate Conference. The meeting is a competitive-entry, grad student only conference created by UW students and hosted in alternating years by UW and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This opportunity to interact with grad students from distantly related fields was extremely valuable. On a sociological level, it was interesting to see the different approaches to research and presentation across fields. On a scientific level, the meeting offered an update on the latest climate (change) research. On top of all that, it was just really fun. The meeting took place at the Pack Forest Conference Center in the foothills of Mt. Rainier, where the summer camp feel was not lost on attendees. Shared cabins, pick-up Ultimate games, s’mores over the fire pit and forest hikes offered plenty of opportunity to mingle outside of the science. The Halloween party with a “dress as your science” theme gave everyone a chance to show off their …errrr… creative side. The best costume ultimately went to #OccupyJupiter, whose picket sign read, “Redistribution of mass! One planet controls 70% of the mass of the solar system.” But with representation from the biogeochemical cyclists (think Nitrogen and spandex) to the famous Luchador, el Doppler Effecto (think fast train and spandex), this group rivaled any Halloween costume party I’ve ever seen.

But more about the meeting. The GCC is a National Science Foundation-funded annual meeting for graduate students interested in climate-related research. Invited grads get travel support from NSF funding and sponsorship from departments within the hosting institution, allowing students from international and national institutions to participate at limited expense: a critical element of making this meeting so successful. This year’s meeting brought together equal numbers of women and men from 7 countries, 31 US institutions and 8 departments within UW. How’s that for interdisciplinary?

Group photo of the GCC2014 attendees outside of UW Pack Forest Conference Center.

Originally created to bring together oceanographers and atmospheric scientists, the meeting is expanding to include biological and human interactions with climate and climate change. 2014 was the first year of sponsorship from the Department of Biology at UW, a relationship we hope to strengthen in the future. Sessions were expanded to include ‘Ecoclimate’ (chaired by Greg Quetin from Dr. Swann’s lab, ‘Biological Change’ (chaired by me) and ‘Human Dimensions’ (represented by law and anthropology students from UW). The result was a multidisciplinary meeting spanning topics from climate dynamics, carbon cycling, sea ice formation and predicting coral bleaching to the future of coffee and human vulnerability to climate change (check out the abstract book here).

The diversity of topics could be detrimental if presenters were unable to speak across disciplines. So, we structured the conference to bridge these divides. Total participation at GCC is limited to about 90 participants to make sure everyone could attend every talk. Prior to the meeting, the session chairs coordinated with the speakers to develop a general introduction to set up the talks and make sure presentations were accessible to a wide audience. It was truly an incredible experience to sit down in a ‘Climate Dynamics’ session, get a 12-minute crash course in models and acronyms, and then BOOM! understand each talk like it was my job… The live tweets (#GradClimCon14 or #gradclimateconf on twitter of the event showed the broad range of take-home messages. It’s well worth reliving the experience through twitter while you put off those paper revisions.

GCC chairs Leah Johnson (UW Oceanography/APL) and Karl Lapo (UW Atmosphere) delivering closing remarks.

While discussion of the breadth of the conference is beyond the scope of this post (and occasionally my comprehension), the experience was something every grad student should have. The GCC delivers fresh insight into the current debates in climate related fields in a unique structure, or should I say ‘climate’, that encourages interaction. In conversations with my peers, I felt myself challenged to explain my own research in a way that was accessible to researchers from different disciplines. Yet through these discussions I observed my research from a different perspective, in a different context. This broadened perspective of my own field and how it relates to a much larger body of research, in addition to the new friendships and collaborations created, made the GCC one of the best conference experiences I have had in my research career. 

~Alex Lowe

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jen Day: How do Molecular Ecologists use Jaguar Scat for Conservation Science?


Step One:  Since jaguars cover a lot of ground – we need to too. 
We have surveyed two locations in southern Mexico to date for jaguar and puma scat, in partnership with University of Veracruz’s Centro de Investigaciones Tropicales (CITRO) and the Reserva Ecologica El Eden.  There are not many jaguars left at these sites, so we were not sure what we would find.  It turns out that the Conservation Canines are experts at finding jaguar scat.  In the Uxpanapa Valley of Veracurz, we ended up with 28 jaguar locations confirmed, and 8 unique multilocus genotypes from scat samples (genotypes are genetic information that allow us to tell individuals apart, relatedness between individuals, and to assess genetic diversity).  That may not sound like a big number, but that's potentially a THIRD of the entire population of the valley!

WITH YOUR HELP, we’re headed to the Lacondona region of Chiapas in January, in collaboration with Dr. Rodrigo Medellín (current president of the Society for Conservation Biology and known as Mexico’s “Bat Man”.  We can’t wait to cover some new ground!    

Photo Credit: IGNACIO GIL
Step Two:  Waste not, want not. 
When species are rare, endangered, or just hard to find, getting every scrap of information from each sample is vital.  Scat contains an amazing amount of information, but it takes a lot of hard work to pull that information out.  Many of the genetic or hormone tools available today do not work well on feces, or require a special set of protocols to get accurate results.  We at UW's Center for Conservation Biology have spent many years developing ways of getting genetic, hormone, and toxin data from fecal samples – you could call us expert scatologists!
          After a lot of trial and error in the early years of my PhD program, I now have a great set of molecular markers to tell species apart, assign multi-locus genotypes, and even measure T3 thyroid and glucocorticoid stress hormones from jaguar scat!

Step Three: Show me the Data!   
From scat locations, we evaluate what constitutes jaguar habitat via resource selection probability functions (RSPF).   RSPF specifically tells us what features in the landscape attract or repel jaguars.  This phase of the analysis will help us answer questions like:  Are jaguars really as sensitive to human activity as we once thought?  Is their attraction to water stronger than their avoidance of roads or villages?  From the results of the RSPF analysis, we can predict the level of connectivity of the landscape with geographic models that apply electrical circuit theory to model wildlife movement.  The best part of this type of connectivity analysis is that it identifies out specific ‘pinch-points’ on the landscape.  These pinch-points are places that can be targeted for conservation efforts, because they provide the biggest benefit to the connectivity of the whole system.  This is a great way to focus limited conservation resources to specific geographic locations that will provide the most benefit to the population as a whole! 

 I am particularly interested in how landscape features impact not only movement, but also gene-flow within and between populations.  Gene-flow is the ultimate measurement of functional habitat connectivity (not only where could they migrate, but where they actually migrate AND reproduce).  Using the multilocus genotypes from scat, I am analyzing genetic patterns within (landscape genetics) and among (population genetics) putative populations.  With the addition of this third field site, we will have an amazing ability to compare how different human pressures affect gene-flow.  The goal of this analysis will be, again, to make conservation efforts most effective.  For example, to maximize gene-flow, should we focus efforts on protecting the remaining forest fragments, or improving the connectivity between them with corridors?  WITH YOUR HELP, we will have an entirely new set of genetic data to add to our analysis – from an area that has never been studied before!

Check out the fundraising page here!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Yasmeen Hussain: Ciliate vs. Urchin Egg

One summer day, I was counting sea urchin eggs and saw one moving. Now, the classical delineation of sperm and eggs is that one of them (sperm) moves and the other (egg) does not. When eggs start moving, I get a little concerned. I moved the hemacytometer (a neat device invented over a century ago that helps people count the number of objects per unit volume) with this egg to our lab's bigger microscope, which has better optics and higher magnification. This is what I saw:

A ciliated, single-celled organism appeared to be either trying to break into the egg and eat its nutritious insides or is feeding off of the egg’s jelly layer, which is full of polysaccharides, peptides, and other potentially nutritious substances. While it moves around the egg (in my head this makes a slurping noise), the egg appears to be moving. This is pretty fun!

But, you may ask, why am I in lab, counting sea urchin eggs on an otherwise perfectly nice day? I’m trying to understand how sperm chemotaxis, how sperm find eggs using chemical signals from the eggs, affects fertilization success, which I determine by counting how many eggs get fertilized. I could just put a drop of sperm into a vial of eggs, or put two spawning sea urchins (that white stuff is sperm) in a tank together, but that wouldn’t be very precise. The number of sperm in each drop, and the number of eggs from each female, can differ wildly, and my advisor showed in a PNAS paper that the ratio of sperm to eggs can make a big difference in the number of eggs that get fertilized. Knowing this, before I mix the sperm from one male urchin and the eggs from one female urchin together, I count the number of sperm in an average milliliter collected from the male and I also count the number of eggs in an average milliliter from the female. Then, I can calculate the appropriate amount of sperm and egg needed for a consistent sperm:egg ratio and mix them together in that proportion. When I look at the embryos a couple of hours later (see picture), I can count what percentage of eggs were fertilized.

In summary, counting cells can be boring, but the results can be useful and even kind of interesting!

-Yasmeen Hussain
PhD Candidate, Riffell Lab
University of Washington Department of Biology

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rochelle Kelly: Bats and Scat Dogs in the San Juan Islands

This originally appeared in the FHL newletter Tide Bites.

In the Santana Lab at the University of Washington, our research focuses on the relationship among ecology, anatomy and behavior in mammals. Much of our labs' research involves bats, as they are one of the most diverse groups of mammals — they comprise nearly a quarter of all mammalian species. Despite the incredible range of shapes, sizes, behaviors, and the ecological importance of bats, two common images seem to be perpetuated in the mainstream media: that of small brown flying rodents, and rabid vampires.

Batting a thousand…and then some: diversity of bats
While it is true that vampire bats exist, they are only three out of over 1,200 species of bats, and they only occur in the new world tropics. Of the remaining bat species, more than 70% feed exclusively on insects. Even though most species are small (less than 60 grams) and sometimes brown, they are far from being flying rodents. Bats evolved around 55 million years ago, and a recent genetic analysis suggests that their closest relatives are in fact carnivores, ungulates, and cetaceans1. Microchiropteran bats (a.k.a true echolocating bats) occur on every continent except Antarctica and exhibit high diversity even at higher latitudes. For example, the State of Washington is home to 15 species of bats, 10 of which have been documented to occur on at least one of the San Juan Islands.

Fig. 1: Example of two species in the genus Myotis caught on San Juan Island: M. volans and M. evotis. It is important to note that M. evotis cannot be distinguished from M. keenii in the field; genetic analysis is needed to confirm species. Photo credit: R.M. Kelly.
Tales from the cryptic diversity:
Among the San Juan Islands, 6 of the 10 bat species that have been documented are in the genus Myotis (Figure 1). Commonly referred to as “mouse-eared bats”, species in this genus abide the stereotype, as they are small bats (between 4 and 25 grams) and usually some shade of brown. Despite their general morphological similarity, these species exhibit high “cryptic diversity”. This means that while they may look very similar, or even indistinguishable in some cases, they are in fact separate species that differ in terms of their ecological roles. For example, research in Germany suggests that differences in ear size between two closely related Myotis species explains their differences in hunting strategies and diet2. This partitioning of resources enables Myotis bats to coexist together without direct competition. However, untangling these differences in bats is particularly difficult, as it is logistically challenging to study their behavior in nature.

Background behind my research:
For my research, I am interested in understanding whether ecological differences among closely related species influence their patterns of dispersal. Bats are the only mammals capable of flight, and are often assumed to be unaffected by barriers to dispersal (e.g. habitat fragmentation or geographic barriers)3. However, dispersal ability in bats may be more closely linked to their ecological requirements4,7. Barriers to dispersal can reduce genetic diversity and increase risk of extinction8,10. Therefore, comparative studies can improve our understanding of the relationship between ecology & dispersal in bats and help inform their conservation. Using a comparative approach, I began investigating whether differences in dietary and/or roosting ecology influence patterns of dispersal and gene flow among bat species in the San Juan archipelago and northwest Washington State.

Pilot field study:
I began my research this July on San Juan, Orcas, and Vendovi islands. While I based my research out of Friday Harbor Labs, I needed access to field sites across the islands. Therefore, I sought collaboration with San Juan County Landbank, The San Juan Preservation Trust, and the San Juan Island National Historic Sites: English and American Camps. These organizations granted me access to their preserves throughout the islands, where I carried out my fieldwork. At this point you may be wondering, how exactly one goes about studying bats? This was a common question I received while in the field. Biologists need to employ a combination of methods in order to carry out a comprehensive survey of bats, including mist netting, acoustic monitoring, and roost surveys.

Fig. 2: Rochelle getting ready to record the echolocation call of a Townsend’s Big-eared bat. Photo credit: R.M Kelly.

In the bat toolbox:
While this dearth of sampling methods can make things labor intensive and costly, relying on solely one method underrepresents certain species, leading to biased and incomplete results11. Each method has pitfalls and may be biased towards specific types of species. For example, while passive ultrasonic detectors are great for monitoring bat activity, it is impossible to distinguish individual bats based on their calls. Therefore, one cannot draw any reliable inference about population size from this type of data alone. Similarly, mist netting (capturing bats in a fine-mesh net) can be biased toward low-flying species. For my study, I combined acoustic sampling with mist netting, which allowed me to confirm species, sex, and age information, and also collect tissue, fecal samples, and record their echolocation calls (Figure 2). I am now processing the samples back at UW to analyze the population structure and diet of bats on the islands.

Fig. 3: Handler Liz Seeley and detection dog (Tucker) in search of tree roosting bats. Photo credit: R.M. Kelly.

Additionally, I collaborated with UW Professor Sam Wasser to employ scent detection dogs (a.k.a conservation canines) to locate tree roosts of bats on the islands (Figure 3). It turned out that going from finding Orca scat to sniffing out bats was more challenging for the dogs than we initially anticipated, and much of the summer was dedicated to refining our sampling design. Despite these obstacles, the dogs showed remarkable ability to track the scent of bat feces in trainings, and we successfully confirmed one tree roost. Using infrared video, we were able to survey bats exiting the roost and are analyzing fecal samples we collected to confirm species. We hope to refine this sampling methodology for future field seasons as well as more broadly in the field of roosting ecology, as this approach represents a non-invasive alternative to many traditional studies of roosting ecology.

This pilot field season would not have been possible without support and advice from my advisor: Sharlene Santana, Jim Kenagy, Ruth Milner, and my collaborators at San Juan County Landbank, the San Juan Preservation Trust, and San Juan National Historic Sites. Additionally I must thank my field assistant Elena Cheung, as well as all the volunteers from Friday Harbor that helped out in the field and all of the residents on the islands that invited us onto their properties to collect this valuable data. Funding sources for this project include the Washington Research Fellowship & Benjamin Hall scholarship, Friday Harbors Labs' Richard and Megumi Strathmann Fellowship, and the Carrington Travel Award.