As BCI has grown, providing support to graduate students conducting research important to the conservation of bats has become an important function of the organization. Indicative of the heightened interest in bats, last year BCI received more than twice as many requests for assistance as in previous years.
A grant from The Frank Cross Foundation is enabling BCI to support graduate research in India, Argentina, and for the second year, in Peru. Indian doctoral student Shahroukh Mistry is being supported in his year-long study of bat seed dispersal and pollination. Despite the key role of bats in the propagation of many of India's economically and ecologically important plants, India still classifies bats as vermin, thus excluding them from conservation planning. Study results will strengthen BCI's move to gain inclusion of bats on India's list of officially protected wildlife.
BCI is also supporting the research of Carlos Iudica, an Argentinean graduate student, in his study of the affect of human disturbance on fruit bat communities in a montane rain forest in northwestern Argentina. This area of rich biological diversity is currently facing severe threats from commercial logging and colonists. An ecological study is imperative to launch local conservation and educational efforts and to stimulate governmental concern.
For the second year, BCI is supporting Cathy Sahley, a Peruvian doctoral student, in her work in the arid Pacific coastal zone of Peru. Since the pilot project began early in 1991, she has been investigating the conservation needs of one of the world's most unusual bat faunas in this fragile habitat. Although work was hampered this past season by bad weather conditions associated with El Nino, her work is already playing an important role in gaining local conservation measures for bats of the coastal zone.
With funding from the W. Alton Jones Foundation, BCI helped to sponsor Tim Wohlegenant, a Yale University graduate student, in his field study of the influence of tropical agricultural practices on the structure of bat communities in Costa Rica. Vampire bats have proliferated with the conversion of forest to crop and pasturelands and may be crowding highly beneficial bats from their roosts. Furthermore, beneficial species are mistakenly being killed by the millions in attempts to control vampires. The ecological and economic ramifications of misdirected control are undoubtedly severe, but more research is urgently needed to support conservation initiatives and improved vampire bat control. Information gained from this study will be valuable in future BCI projects in Latin America.
In Australia, BCI is helping to sponsor the first year of a projected three-year Earthwatch study on flying foxes. During periods of drought, flying foxes sometimes damage commercial fruit orchards in Australia and are killed by the thousands each year. Yet without the flying foxes, the ecosystems they support are at great risk. Ecological studies of three species of these animals will yield important information on their values and conservation needs.