We are delighted to speak with Molly Simonis who is currently a PhD Candidate working with Dr. Lynn Hartzler at Wright State University. Molly is a member of the Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology section of the American Physiological Society and she presented her research “Captive Big Brown Bats (Eptesicus fuscus) Display Hypothermia and Hypometabolism” at the 2021 Experimental Biology conference last month.
Q: What made you interested in studying big brown bats?
A: I first became interested in bats when I was a Wildlife Research Fellow at Brukner Nature Center. I got to participate in a community science project using acoustic monitors to track bats for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. It was so cool to be able to hear bats echolocate with these acoustic monitors and contribute to a long-term research project tracking bat populations over time. My interest in big brown bats piqued when I learned about white nose syndrome. Bat populations have been decimated by this disease, but big brown bats less than some other species. As part of my PhD studies, I’m trying to figure out why. Besides, they are one of the most adorable sky puppies!
Q: What is torpor and do all bats use this strategy to conserve energy?
A: Torpor is a state of inactivity in endotherms where body temperature and metabolism drop below normal. Animals use torpor to save energy when resources are scarce and environments are stressful. Most bats torpor to some extent; some in seasonal long bouts of torpor (hibernation) or daily torpor when it is energetically costly for them to be fully active.
Q: Do captive bats still undergo torpor?
A: Captive bats can still torpor; however, the extent of torpor is usually less than wild bats. This depends on food availability, ambient temperatures, captive light:dark cycles, and the amount of time they are captive. Because there are so many factors contributing to torpor, I would say how and when bats torpor in captivity depends on captive conditions.
Q: We have talked a lot about white nose syndrome on this blog. Are these bats at risk of developing WNS?
A: In the wild, big brown bats are at risk for developing white nose syndrome. Their risk is less than other cave-dwelling species like little brown, northern long-eared and tri-colored bats.
Q: What are you studying right now?
A: I am studying big brown bat energy costs incurred from long-term exposure to the fungus that causes white nose syndrome. To do so, I measure metabolic rates of big brown bats chronically exposed to the white nose syndrome fungus as an index of energy spent, and compare it to metabolic rates of big brown bats without exposure. I’m also using 30 years of wild big brown bat capture records to harness the power of big data (statistical modeling) to figure out how big brown bat populations have changed since the fungus causing white nose syndrome invaded the eastern US.