Friday, May 10, 2013

The Bat Woman of Oz

Caragh Threlfall, a postdoc at the University of Melbourne, is my kind of field scientist. She studied predation on urban bat roosts in Sydney, Australia, by collecting and redistributing little piles of bat shit. Really. Actually, she managed to convince other people to collect a lot of the shit for her. (She clearly has potential to run a lab at full professor rank.—Ed.)

What’s the polite scientific phrase for “we collected and redistributed bat shit”? Simple: “we experimentally manipulated the amount and refresh rate of roosting odour cues.”

It turns out that predators like rats and ringtail possums key in on the smell of bat poop. Paradoxically, tiny amounts of poop spurred the most visits by predators, who probably figured it was from a solitary bat and therefore easy pickings. The attractiveness of poop to predators may be one reason large urban roosts move to a new location every few days.

Remember folks, FirstNerve is your online source for complete, ongoing coverage of Australian bat shit.

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