Weather Radar Tracks Bats

Article excerpt

Storm chasers have become bat counters. A UC Santa Cruz scientist, working with meteorologists at the University of Oklahoma, is using mobile storm-chasing radars to follow swarms of bats as they emerge from their caves each night to forage on insects.

The radar images of bats appear as distinct "blooms" of radar reflectivity and give scientists clues to their behavior, said Winifred F. Frick, a post doctoral researcher in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. Frick, a bat expert, is working with professor Thomas H. Kunz, of Boston University, and others at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Severe Storms Laboratory. The team described their innovative research at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in a presentation titled "Aeroecology: Transcending Boundaries Among Ecology, Meteorology, and Physics."

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Kunz coined the term aeroecology two years ago to describe the interactions of organisms--birds, bats, and insects--in the lower atmosphere. Aeroecology can be recognized as a stand-alone discipline just as marine biology is recognized as a standalone discipline concerning life in the oceans, Frick said.

"It's very interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary in the sense that it involves bird biologists and bat ecologists, entomologists, radar scientists and meteorologists," she said.

Frick received a National Science Foundation fellowship in bioinformatics to use current radar technologies to estimate densities of bat populations in the atmosphere. …