The director of the team, Mr Joxerra Aihartza, took the first steps when he began drawing up a complete atlas of the distribution of bat species in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (CAV-EAE). There are now nine biologists on the team.
As Mr Egoitz Salsamendi, member of the team, explained, they took Mr Aihartza’s research as the starting point and, “from then on, the group specialised in analysing the choice of habitat and diet”. To this end, they mainly used radio-telemetry. “We have highly specialised radio transmitters – they have to be very small in order to attach them to the animals. When the transmitters are attached, we release the bats back into the cave and, when the next night they begin feeding, we can monitor them. In this way we know when and to what extent they move and what they feed on”.Long-fingered bats partial to fish
They thus showed that this species of bat eat fish but, as Joxerra Aihartza himself explained, it was needed to show that it was the bats themselves who were catching the fish: “We controlled their movements for a number of days using a tent where we had left fish and we observed that they did, in fact, catch live fish”. Their staple diet are the insects inhabiting the surface of the water, “but there is an ecological reason that explains this fishing behaviour: when the pools of water in a cave start drying up, the fish concentrate at their surface and they are easy to catch”, added Mr Salsamendi. Ostaizka Aizpurua, member of the team, has begun to write a PhD thesis on the species.Necessity for caves and suitable habitats
The biologist also underlined that the habitat is a fundamental factor, given that bats need a great variety and quantity of insects.
In this sense, Mr Aihartza pointed out that pine tree management and the use of pesticides such as Dimilin cause considerable damage, and not only affect the conservation of the bats: “Bats are very good indicators of the state of health of habitats. A prosperous habitat provides refuge to a prosperous community of bats. The protection of bats guarantees the protection of the habitat - each needs the other”.
In relation to this, and as requested by government bodies, the team carried out a number of management plans, but Mr Aihartza states that no notice has been taken of them: “The species continue as bad as before, or even worse, and this is our main concern”.Investigating virology
Mr Aihartza also mentioned “a large-scale project” for the coming years: “According to data revealed in recent years, a number of diseases have appeared in bats that substantially affect humans. For example, bats could be carriers of the African Ebola virus”. Thus, they are also studying, in conjunction with other teams, the virology of bats.
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