2022 in review

I just submitted my annual report to the National Science Foundation, so I thought I would share our progress here.

Research

  • We started a new captive colony of vampire bats at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. This colony includes vampire bats captured from three different sites to make a mix of familiar (ingroup) and unfamiliar (outgroup) bats. It is the basis for an experiment on partner choice.
  • We also started a second new captive colony at The Ohio State University. This colony includes individuals who have already lived together for years. It is the basis for an experiment on subtle partner switching.
  • Lab alumna Bridget Brown published the second paper from her MSc thesis, a review entitled Do bats use scent cues from guano and urine to find roosts? (Brown & Carter 2022 Animal Behavior and Cognition).
  • PhD Candidate Imran Razik published a paper Forced proximity promotes the formation of enduring cooperative relationships in vampire bats (Razik et al. 2022 Biology Letters).
  • PhD student Julia Vrtilek presented a poster entitled Social information in the contact calls of vampire bats (at the International Bat Research Conference and at the Sensorium conference at University of Cincinnati) showing evidence for vocal convergence during social relationship formation in vampire bats.
  • MSc student Raven Hartman gave the talk Relative impacts of three spatial scales of movement on social grooming networks in vampire bats at the Animal Behavior Society meeting.
  • At the same meeting, Alexis Earl, a collaborator and PhD candidate in Dustin Rubenstein’s lab presented the talk, Reciprocal help is more evident than kin-bias in a mixed-kin, plural cooperatively breeding society.
  • Postdoctoral scientist May Dixon published the paper Long-term memory in frog-eating bats (Dixon et al. 2022 Current Biology). May also re-submitted a revised manuscript, Spatial learning overshadows learning novel odors and sounds in both a predatory and a frugivorous bat (on BioRxiv and in review at Behavioral Ecology).
  • Postdoctoral scientists Basti Stockmaier and Elsa Cárdenas Canales, along with Ohio State University undergraduate Eleanor Cronin published the paper Social effects of rabies infection in male vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) in Biology Letters.
  • Undergraduate student Michael Abou-Elias presented the poster Effects of Staph infection on vampire bat behavior at an Ohio State University undergraduate research symposium.
  • I wrote an invited review paper with Dan Riskin entitled, Sanguivory in vampire bats: How did it evolve and how does it compare to blood-feeding in other animals? currently in press at Canadian Journal of Zoology.
  • A $2.5 million collaborative grant entitled Social stress, epigenetics and immune function across bat lifespans was funded by the National Institute of Aging (part of the National Institute of Health). The grant was led by Gerald Wilkinson, University of Maryland and co-investigators include David Mosser, Najib El-Sayed, Gerald Carter, Gareth Jones, and Emma Teeling.

Academic achievements

  • Imran Razik was awarded two competitive fellowships: a Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellowship and Ohio State University’s Presidential Predoctoral Fellowship.
  • Raven Hartman was awarded an Obey Scholarship and an Enrichment Fellowship from The Ohio State University.
  • We recruited our newest PhD student Haley Gmutza. She received a ENGIE-Axium Research Incentive Recruitment Scholarship and a University Fellowship.
  • Basti Stockmaier was awarded a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellowship and OSU’s Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship, and he will start his own lab as a tenure-track assistant professor at University of Tennessee Knoxville!!!

Public outreach

  • Imran has been helping to lead the monthly science outreach event Bat Night / Noche de Murciélagos in Gamboa, Panama.
  • I did an episode of the Give Bats a Break Podcast and the Animal Behavior Podcast
  • I gave an online public science talk entitled The Vampire Bat for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • May Dixon and I gave talks at the local Columbus event Science N Suds.
  • The first inaugural Ohio Bat Festival was a huge success with 524 attendees. A huge THANK YOU to all our funders and supporters. If you want to make a tax-deductible donation to our Ohio Bat Fest fund activities in bat research, conservation, and outreach, you can do that here.

I absolutely need to thank every person in my lab for working so hard this year and for overcoming so many challenges. The years 2020 to 2022 have been quite difficult for every lab member, not only because of the pandemic we all experienced together, but also for a set of family, personal, and/or health challenges that have been unique for each individual. I feel lucky to work with this particular team. They provide me with a diversity of perspectives. They support each other, and I can honestly say I have greatly benefited from the kindness of every graduate student and postdoc in my lab. I feel that they somehow understand that, just as they are still learning how to be working scientists, I am also still learning how to be a mentor and run a lab. Doing science is incredibly difficult. It requires persistence, resilience, and painstaking commitments of energy, time, and attention to detail. It requires being extraordinarily ethical and intellectually honest (in my view the scientific mindset is more ethics and epistemology than technical skill). These challenges are all much easier when you work with kind and supportive people.

I’m looking forward to 2023. I think we will do exciting and important work.

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