Media & Education
Volume 35, Issue 3, 2016
The importance of volunteerism for aspiring conservationists
What advice would an esteemed bat scientist have for aspiring students? To celebrate the 46th Annual Symposium on Bat Research hosted by BCI in San Antonio for the North American Society for Bat Research, we decided to ask Dr. Tigga Kingston!
Bats: How did you get your start as a bat scientist?
Kingston: I was a member of an undergraduate-led expedition to Colombia to study biodiversity. I was supposed to be studying small mammals, but the traps got stuck in customs and never made it out. As a plan B, the small mammal team (myself and the late Kate Barlow) borrowed bird nets and started catching bats. It only took a couple of bats to realize that plan B was going to be PLAN A from there on out, and it’s been bats ever since!
Bats: What is the main research theme you’ve tried to answer in your career?
Kingston: Ever since my first trip to Colombia, I’ve been blown away by the extraordinary diversity of bats that can coexist in tropical habitats. So in essence, I ask the age-old question, why are there so many species? More specifically, I am interested in the processes that facilitate coexistence in species-rich bat assemblages and how these influence which species survive in human-modified landscapes.
Bats: Besides a biology degree, what skills would you encourage students to develop to help them in a conservation career?
Kingston: It is really important to gain practical research experience during your time as an undergraduate. Ideally, this should be work on bats, but potential advisors are looking for evidence that you can or will be able to design, implement, analyze and present original research. There are excellent opportunities through study abroad programs, field courses and summer internships, or you can contact researchers at other universities or organizations that focus on bat conservation and research. Be prepared to volunteer until you have the field skills that make you employable!
Bats: What is your favorite memory of being a student?
Kingston: Sitting alone in the rainforest in the dark, having all the traps set up and ready, and just waiting for the first bats to start flying. It was always so magical listening to the rainforest dayshift give way to the creatures of the night, and anticipating a good night’s batting.
Bats: Do you have any advice for non-scientists who want to get involved in bat conservation?
Kingston: There are many ways to get involved that are responsive to your availability and expertise. The key is to connect up and network with others concerned with bat conservation. There might be a specific local bat conservation issue you can help with, or you might think more broadly about educating the public about bats (giving bat talks to kids, leading bat walks at local parks), or join a citizen science initiative monitoring bat populations. If you have a bit more time, see if local universities or not-for-profit groups have any programs you can volunteer with—there are a lot of us out there and a lot of work to do!
Bats: That’s a great idea! For example, in Austin, BCI is always looking for volunteers for our Congress Avenue Bridge education program! Find out more at batcon.org/CABdocents