‘Team Vampire’ Fall 2016

Julia Vrtilek (Biology, Amherst College, 2015) is studying the development of grooming and food-sharing networks in young-of-the-year vampire bats.

What are your interests?
I find it fascinating and awe-inspiring that “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” I’m interested in evolutionary biology, ecology, and animal behavior, as well as the latest thing I’ve read about in a recent cool article.

What do you hope to gain from working on the vampire bat project?
Primarily I hope to learn: about the bats, about research as a career, about myself. I’ve never worked with such a complex model organism before, and I know Gerry can teach me a lot about experimental design and statistics that I can use in my future work. I have mostly worked in microbiology, and the time has come to decide where I want to focus my future research. STRI is the perfect place for that; I am surrounded by smart, dedicated people who study all the things I’m interested in, and I hope to absorb enough about their work to help me concentrate my future efforts on my most enduring interests. I also hope to contribute to our understanding of reciprocity and cooperation!

What are your plans for the future?
This coming year, I expect to be working towards my Master’s degree in Zurich, and then I plan to proceed toward a doctoral degree.

Ellen Jacobs ( Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, UC San Diego, 2016) is studying preference of young vampire bats for contact calls of mothers and other females.

What are your interests?
My primary interest is in animal social dynamics. I’m fascinated by the way that animals relate to each other, either in similar or totally different ways to humans. I’ve started focusing on acoustic communication, and I am very interested in the way that we can gain insight into the behaviors of different species based on their vocalizations. I am curious about the evolutionary and ecological causes and consequences of the ways that animals communicate. Ultimately, my interests are in understanding how different animals perceive and interact with the world and each other.

Julia and Ellen

What do you hope to gain from working on the vampire bat project?
The vampire bat project is a great way for me to explore my interests in communication and social dynamics, because vampire bats have such complex social interactions. I’m learning a lot about how researchers study social interactions, which I know will be useful in my future studies. I hope to gain experience in designing and running research projects, as well as statistical analysis that I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to do before. I’ve also never worked with terrestrial animals before, as much of my background is in marine biology, so I am finding the differences between terrestrial and marine animal research very interesting. STRI and the vampire bat project are a great introduction into the world of biological research, so I’m trying to soak up as much as I can.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m hoping to begin a Masters in the next school year, then a doctoral degree with the intention of pursuing a career in bioacoustics.

Rachel Crisp (currently MSc student at Exeter with Lauren Brent) is studying female social rank in vampire bats.

What are your interests?
From molluscs to mammals, sociality has arisen multiple times with varying degrees of complexity throughout the animal kingdom, and we observe social strategies that are both divergent or convergent. I’m interested in what influences the formation and structure of animal social networks, and what it can tell us about sociality in general. In addition, I’m interested in the influence of parasites, mating systems, and dispersal on social networks, and how sociality can influence cognitive abilities.

What do you hope to gain from working on the vampire bat project?
Vampire bats are interesting because they share some convergent social traits with primates despite diverging 66.5 million years ago. In primates, social rank is well described and is an important way that individuals balance the social benefits of group living against the social costs of escalating aggression. Currently we know very little about intra-sexual competition among female vampire bats and whether they resolve this social conflict in the same way as primates: by forming a dominance hierarchy. I’m hoping to gain insight into whether female vampire bats form a social rank and if rank is associated with grooming and food-sharing social networks. I hope this will elucidate some unexplained variation in vampire bat cooperation and give some insight into how vampire bat social networks compare to those of other socially complex vertebrates.


What are your plans for the future?
I’m particularly intrigued by convergent evolution in social systems and behavior across taxa. The social behavior of squid is a neglected area of study that I think could provide us with an interesting comparative study for social evolution. I’m also interested in using the variation in sociality among cephalopod orders to study social evolution. Ideally I would like to combine these (still rather vague) questions in some way.

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