Media & Education
BATS Magazine

Volume 37, Issue 3, 2018

Rugged Research

The mountainous rigors (and rewards) of fieldwork


Roxanne Pourshoushtari is a Master’s student at Angelo State University working to better understand the roosting habits of the endangered Mexican long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris nivalis) in Texas. Through a combination of thermal imaging, PIT tagging and genetic testing, Pourshoushtari hopes that her colleagues and she can gather a greater understanding of the lives of these endangered bats.

Pourshoushtari and a young Leptonycteris nivalis she captured via mist-net
near the entrance of Emory Cave.
Courtesy of Roxanne Pourshoushtari

Bats: Why are the L. nivalis roosts in Texas unique?

Pourshoushtari: There is only one known L. nivalis roost in Texas, which is Emory Cave in Big Bend National Park. Though this cool-temperature cave is within the Chihuahuan Desert, it is surrounded by high elevation pine-oak woodland, a characteristic shared with other major roost sites in Mexico. It is the only known maternity roost in the U.S. where mothers bring and continue to raise their flying juveniles; therefore, there are very rarely any adult males that show up at this site.

Bats: Why are these bats important?

Pourshoushtari: These bats are known pollinators of over 20 species of plants, primarily relying on agave species in the northern portion of their range. Their pollination services help to promote cross-pollination in these plants, thus promoting genetic diversity within the plant species.

Bats: What is it like working in the field?

Pourshoushtari: Fieldwork is the highlight of the job. It’s the time that you get hands-on contact with your study species, be outside and experience new challenges that just don’t arise when in a lab. Of course, it can be physically demanding at times, sometimes mentally exhausting, but there is nothing as satisfying as knowing you’ve successfully made it through a rugged field experience.

Bats: What are some of the challenges you face with your work?

Pourshoushtari: Emory Cave is a 4-mile trek up a mountain, which can take 2–3.5 hours to hike, depending on the physical abilities of those in the group and the heat of the day. As such, heat exhaustion is a real possibility and has been experienced by a few volunteers that have come out with me. Getting equipment up the mountain and maintaining it also has its own set of challenges, from the effort of getting it up the mountain in the first place to troubleshooting issues that require the assistance of technical support.

Bats: How has BCI helped your research?

Pourshoushtari: BCI has subgranted us funding from the Fish & Wildlife Service, as a part of the effort of the Nivalis Conservation Network. Winifred Frick and Jon Flanders have both been involved with the NCN, including work on the Species Status Assessment. With Winifred’s past experience in dealing with the sister species, Leptonycteris yerbabuenae, and the extensive knowledge about bat conservation that both she and Jon have, they’ve been incredibly valuable in the mission to protect the Mexican long-nosed bat.

Bats: How will your research inform conservation?

Pourshoushtari: The hope is to eventually be able to follow migratory patterns of these bats with the PIT tagging systems that are in place, but as it stands, no one has detected any bats that weren’t caught at the site of the monitoring system. We have still been able to collect data on the seasonal variation in activity and site fidelity. The genetics work I am doing will hopefully help us to elucidate the true status of this species in the wild, as these bats are rare and difficult to find throughout their range, causing greater challenges to face in the conservation efforts.

All articles in this issue:

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