Welcome to my brand new website! My goal for this blog is to share cool things about my research, insights I pick up along the road to becoming a scientist, and other stuff about science and nature that deserves to escape the corridors of academia.
I want to start out by talking about how I came to my primary research area, animal migration. Before I became a professional biologist, I was an amateur naturalist and a birder. I took Joe Morlan’s Field Ornithology classes for several years. For birders, once you get familiar with the local birds, the next challenge is to find the rarer birds, such as migrants. Learning about the mechanics of migration and strategies to predict where and when to find these birds led me to an interest in migration in general. How do they know when and where to to go? Why do they get lost sometimes? When I became a biologist and began to study animal behavior, I realized how widespread migration is in the animal world. And yet, we know so little about migration beyond things like caribou, songbirds, and monarch butterflies.
Studying migration in bats is extra important. While bats face serious problems such as deaths at wind turbines or from the fungus causing White Nose syndrome, for some species we can’t tell how serious the problem is because we don’t even know how many bats exist! It’s impossible to say, for example, what percent of the population of migratory tree bats are killed at wind turbines, because while we can guess at the number killed, we don’t know the size of the whole population or where they migrate to and from. We get so used to having information only a google away, and yet some basic biological facts remain largely unknown.
Migration in insects is even less well understood, outside of a few charismatic butterflies and the insects that cause crop damage. It’s also radically different. For example, most individual insects only complete part of a migration. It may take many generations for a population to move from summer to winter grounds and back again. From a predator’s perspective, migratory insects are very nutritious, since like other migrants they tend to have extra fat reserves. So you might expect that insect-eating animals might have learned to take advantage of these periodic moving feasts. However, as with bats and birds, much of this migration happens at night, and requires extra work and technology to study, and there is little funding available. Yet, with increasing changes to the climate and the environment, the intricate links between these migratory predators and migratory prey may disintegrate before we even understand them, let alone know how to preserve them. I’m doing what I can to change that.