Media & Education
BATS Magazine

Volume 36, Issue 3, 2017

Bat Chat: A Deeper Dive

Answering an age-old question to foster conservation


Jennifer conducts her research in the Ruta dos Moura cave, where
21 different bat species have been documented.
Photo: Jennifer de Sousa Barros.

The question may appear simple: Why do bats prefer to roost in certain caves over others? But the answer is complex. BCI grantee Jennifer de Sousa Barros is working to identify characteristics of caves that are home to bat populations. She hopes that her work can influence protection of these valuable cave environments in her native Brazil. Bats sat down with Sousa Barros to find out more.

Bats: Why are karst environments important to bat populations?
Sousa Barros: These environments serve mainly as a roosting for the bats, providing protection against predators, conditions for their reproduction, and a resting place at foraging time. Even though the species we study don’t hibernate, some are considered strictly dependent on caves, which means the destruction of these environments puts those species at greater risk. This is the case, for example, of Natalus macrourus, Furipetus horrens and Lonchorhina aurita, considered threatened in Brazil, especially by the pressure that karsts environments have been suffering.

Bats: What’s it like working in the caves?
Sousa Barros: It is always very exciting! I always have a great expectation about what species we’ll find. Besides, the adventure and beauties some caves provide are breathtaking, such as getting into tunnels, tight passes, sometimes crossing rivers, discovering ancient and beautiful speleothems—there’s never a dull moment. On the other hand, some caves also offer a lot of danger, and it is imperative to always be aware and to know how to recognize the safety limits and respect them. But at the end of the day, I feel so joyful to enter a cave and discover which bats are there, especially when it’s one of my favorites.

Bats: What do you hope to accomplish with your research?
Sousa Barros: I hope to contribute to the understanding of how each species of bat selects the caves to be their roosting place, since this information can be used by environmental agencies in licensing processes to define important caves for conservation. I hope to indicate which caves will be of maximum relevance in the region, that is, priority for conservation from the record of endangered species. Besides, increasing the knowledge about the occurrence of bat species in Brazil is important since the country is so large and yet there are so many places where little is known, especially regarding bat fauna of caves. 

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