The Echo
Women in Bat Conservation: Kirsty Park

The Echo

Women in Bat Conservation: Kirsty Park

Published on April 8, 2015

Kirsty parkName: Kirsty Park

Title: Reader in Conservation Biology

Organization: University of Stirling

What is your focus in bat research?

I am interested in the effects of anthropogenic change on biodiversity and how we can try and manage this, or mitigate against the worst negative effects. I focus primarily on animal ecology and conservation in heavily managed environments such as agricultural and urban landscapes and forestry. Whilst bats are a key focus for me I also have on-going projects on a wide array of groups including plants, invertebrates, birds and other mammals.

What is the most amazing thing you have leant about bats?

During my PhD I put temperature-sensitive radiotags on bats over winter to monitor how often they aroused from hibernation. There is still some debate about whether mammals entrain their body clocks to external cues during hibernation…we found that bats in poorer body condition were most likely to arouse close to dusk but ones in very good condition appeared to allow their body clocks to “free-run”. I thought this was fascinating – it was the first study to follow the temperature patterns of free-ranging bats for months over winter so a unique dataset to be working on. 

How have you been involved with Bat Conservation International?

BCI helped fund fieldwork for the first bat PhD project I supervised which compared invertebrate abundance and the foraging activity of bats at two types of farm – conventional farms and those that had signed up to a variety of “agri-environment” agreements which are supposed to benefit wildlife. The results were quite unexpected: whilst some of the invertebrates – moths in particular – did seem to really benefit from agri-environment schemes, others such as flies, were more abundant on conventional farms. The most common species of bat in the study area feed predominately on flies and foraging activity of these species was also considerably higher at conventional farms. We have some ideas as to why this might be but exploring these will require some further research. 

What is the most satisfying part of your involvement with bat research?

I love the variation in my job. One moment I can be discussing how best to design an experiment which will test the effects of land management on breeding birds, and the next I can be looking at results from a PhD students fieldwork – even supposedly well-known species can surprise, and field trips to visit study sites with students or external collaborators are always enjoyable.  As Trustee of the Bat Conservation Trust and the Chair of the board for Bats without Borders (a new conservation initiative in southern Africa) I also get to feed in to wider issues relating to bat conservation, policy and future research. Having spent long periods on my own during my PhD fieldwork I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoy working as part of a team so having a vibrant and enthusiastic research group, as I do at the moment, is a real high point for me.

If you could have one incredible animal adaptation, what would it be?

It has to be the ability to fly, although hopefully this would be accompanied by stronger nerves given I’m pretty nervous about flying in planes.

Where did you go to school?

I went to school in Oxford (UK) and always knew I wanted to study biology – my ambition at age 11 was to be David Attenborough! Obviously I haven’t quite attained this goal but I’m pretty happy to be doing what I am.

Do you have any advice for people who want to get involved in bat conservation?

In many parts of the world getting involved with bat conservation is easy as there are lots of local or national bat groups and researchers who will usually be glad of an extra pair of hands. However, we know there are still large parts of the world with few advocates for bats and little research - the first thing to do is find out what is happening in a particular area, there may be other wildlife groups for example, who you could join forces with to survey potential roosting sites or look for good foraging sites that might be at risk. Whilst you should be well trained for any work that involves catching bats there is a lot you can do with bat detectors and some grant-giving bodies that can help with funds. Bat detector manufacturers themselves might be worth approaching for second hand detectors if they see this going to a worthy cause.





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