Student examines endangered bats’ habitat in mines
Published: Sunday, March 20, 2011
Updated: Sunday, March 20, 2011 22:03
Newfound proof has shown dangerous, abandoned mines in Colorado may actually provide an ecological benefit for a certain species of bats. Some of these mines are actually safe havens for a species of conservation concern, Townsend's big-eared bats.
Mark Hayes, a UNC doctoral student, has researched bats in southwestern Colorado. Hayes said he wanted to better understand why bats choose certain areas to roost or live.
Hayes discovered bats are more likely to hibernate in temperatures of about 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, the bats tend to hibernate individually in mines that had several openings.
"Mark's research is going to change the way we think about how bats choose and use roost sites," said Rick Adams, a biology professor at the University of Northern Colorado and Hayes' doctorate mentor. Adams has done vast research on bats, which will help natural resource managers better maintain the mines.
Lea Bonewell, Hayes' wife and a bat researcher in her own right, said abandoned mines are extremely dangerous.
"People die every year in the U.S. in these sites," Bonewell said. "Finding ways to efficiently, accurately and safely evaluate abandoned mines for bat habitat will enable managers to make better decisions or at least consider the variables involved."
There are several reasons that bats are important around the world to ecology.
"Insectivorous bats, like the ones in Colorado, have been documented eating up to 600 insects an hour," Bonewell said. "Bats in very large colonies in places like Texas will eat tons of insects per night. This saves farmers from applying more pesticides. Other bat species drink nectar, like some in the desert southwest, and provide a critical pollination role."
Hayes said he became interested in bats when he began to learn about some of the benefits bats provide after attending Adams' lectures. A desire to help them gradually became a passion.
"I grew up spending a lot of time in the Colorado mountains and grew to really appreciate our Colorado landscape and wildlife," Hayes said. "I have felt compelled to make a small contribution, within my sphere of influence, to help conserve those landscapes and wildlife for future generations."
Hayes said he thinks it is important for humans to understand different species. He said understanding allows people to become more sensitive to the world around them.
Hayes also said he believes it is important to document current findings so biologists in future generations can look back and get a sense of what researchers are finding now.