Media & Education
BATS Magazine

Volume 38, Issue 3, 2019

Powerful Science

A BCI Student Scholar reflects on how BCI’s support advanced his research

Dave Hemprich-Bennett received a BCI Student Scholarship in 2017 to support his graduate research project in Borneo. He compared differences in prey availability for bats in undisturbed versus fragmented habitats in old-growth rainforests in the Danam Valley and Maliau Basin and in areas logged for conversion to oil palm plantations.

An avid runner, Hemprich-Bennett said he also took advantage of long runs in the jungle to clear his head after hot, difficult days of insect-filled field work.

Bats: How did you get involved in studying bats?
Hemprich-Bennett: I began working with bats between my master’s and Ph.D. programs, as a research assistant for a project to mitigate damage by bats at some historic churches in the U.K. Previously, I’d done work with caimans, and then on the genetics of plankton.
All of that came together for my work using DNA barcoding to study the tropical dietary ecology of bats in Borneo.

Bats: How did BCI’s support advance your work?
Hemprich-Bennett: Though there’s reasonable bat diversity in logged areas, just because something is existing doesn’t mean that it’s as viable as it was prior to disturbance.
The BCI scholarship allowed me to go back to Borneo for a third time. I strongly felt I’d be able to do more powerful science by getting more samples, and the grant let me do that.

Bats: What did you find?
Hemprich-Bennett: Basically, we had to catch bats, put them in a little bag, and wait for them to defecate. In the lab, we’d extract the DNA from that waste to look at what they’re feeding on.
The biggest thing we found was that bats in logged areas are consuming a lower number of prey species than in old-growth, and that bats in old-growth areas consume a broader range of prey.
From that, we can infer that bats in logged areas are more vulnerable to environmental fluctuations that might harm prey species.

Bats: How does your work contribute to bat conservation in the study region?
Hemprich-Bennett: Our bat work contributes to a broader analysis that’s ongoing about finding a balance between allowing oil palm plantations to exist and be commercially viable, but also still be reasonably good for conservation purposes.
Bat-wise, one of the most exciting things that happened while we were in Sabah was that I caught an individual, Rhinolophus francisi, that was only formally described to science the year before. It was only the eighth record of one being captured, so that was cool. I certainly never expected to see one.

Bats: Did the BCI scholarship help you out in any other way?
Hemprich-Bennett: By funding new research, especially that of early-career scientists, BCI is building capacity with bat researchers around the world. And for me specifically, the scholarship helped not only my research, but also the local community where the research was taking place. It’s money well spent.

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