Volume 29, Issue 4, Winter 2011

The Passing of Friends

Elisabeth Kalko

By Rachel Page


We lost an extraordinary member of the bat-research community this past fall. Elisabeth K. V. Kalko died unexpectedly in her sleep on September 26 during a visit to a field station in Tanzania. She is deeply missed by family and friends, students and collaborators – and by bat enthusiasts around the world.

Kalko was a full professor and head of the Institute of Experimental Ecology at the University of Ulm in Germany, as well as a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Her research interests were wide-ranging: integrating new technologies for studying bats, bringing together experts from across scientific disciplines, and spanning multiple continents and varied topics. She is most widely known for her advances in the study of echolocation and for increasing our understanding of biodiversity and species co-existence.

"Eli had more energy and passion for biology than anyone I know, and I miss her so much," said University of Maryland Professor Cynthia Moss, who worked closely with Kalko. Another longtime colleague, Brock Fenton of Western Ontario University, described Kalko as "a leader in bat research, someone who always came up with neat, new discoveries."

For recent projects, she teamed with robotic engineers to model bat-echolocation abilities, collaborated with dentists to understand how fruit-eating bats maintain near-perfect teeth despite high-sugar diets, studied how bats use their feet to trawl for shrimp in the ocean, revealed how blood parasites affect bats and discovered the extreme amplitude of echolocation.

Kalko's legacy is far reaching. Not only did she publish more than 100 scientific papers and mentor many students, guiding their research and introducing them to the wonders of bat biology, she was also extremely effective at communicating her passion for bats to the public. She was the focus of several documentary films, spoke frequently to reporters and was widely quoted in the popular press.

Elisabeth Kalko made tremendous strides, not only in our scientific understanding of bats and how they live their lives, but in sharing this knowledge and her infectious enthusiasm to the general public. With her death, we have lost one of the most passionate bat biologists worldwide.

RACHEL PAGE is a Staff Scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

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