Friday, July 9, 2010

Aeroecology – The Next Frontier

I’d make a bet that you who follow my blog have never seen this word. Neither had I, so I looked in my trusty Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and wasn’t at all surprised that it wasn’t there! What was there was a number of words that will give you a clue – such as aerodynetics, “a branch of aviation that has to do with gliding” or aerodynamics “relating to the force of air in motion.”

Now – I’ll quote from a paper written by Boston University professor – Thomas Kunz, Ph.D:

“Every so often in the history of science and technology, empirical discoveries, theory, and technological developments converge, making it possible to recognize a new discipline. Past examples include astrobiology, biomechanics, sociobiolgy, and more recently, macroecology, bioinformatics, and nanotechnology – disciplines that are now well established in the lexicon of modern science and technology. Aeroecology is a new discipline of ecology that embraces and integrates the domains of atmospheric science, earth science, geography, ecology, computer science, computational biology, and engineering. The unifying concept that underlies this emerging discipline is its focus on the planetary boundary layer, or aerosphere, and the myriad of airborne organisms that, in large part, depend upon this environment for their existence. The term aerosphere is derived from the Greek aero, meaning air, and sphere referring to planet Earth. In contrast to continents and oceans, which are interrupted by one another, the aerosphere is the only environment in the biosphere that is truly circumglobal.”

So – What’s This Have To Do With Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve?

In past blogs, I reported that “research” was a part of our mission. But at the time we thought of this as being on plants, insects, birds and animals, the natural environment of the ranch. What’s going on here at our Preserve for three weeks in June/July is mind-boggling.

The researchers are funded by grant from the National Science Foundation and Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Boston University’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the Center for Ecology and Conservation, Biology, and a corporate donation from FLIR, Inc., the company that donated the mobile research laboratory for housing the high resolution thermal imaging cameras. This custom built trailer is used to transport the high tech equipment developed specifically for this research project. Photograph taken by J. David.

The object of the research is to learn how bats, birds and insects can fly in groups. You’ve probably noticed the ups and downs, the individual and group flight behavior of bats – more to our lifetime. Curiously, Roy Bedichek, author of Adventures with a Texas Naturalist, described these maneuvers as “a travesty of flight!” Photograph taken by J. David.

Nathan Fuller, graduate student, Ph.D. Program in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Department of Biology, Boston University, is holding a device used to calibrate three thermal infrared cameras for exploring and describing the movements of bats in three dimensions as they emerge from our Chiroptorium. Photograph taken by J. David.

These highly specialized cameras make it possible to characterize the flight of individual bats within groups (or so-called collective behavior) as they emerge nightly from the Chiroptorium. This research is being conducted by Professor Thomas Kunz, Director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Boston University assisted by graduate students Nathan Fuller (Biology) and Diane Theriault (Computer Science), research assistant Jaclyn Aliperti (Biology), and undergraduate student Leslie Pepin (Biology). Photograph taken by J. David.

Trailer with a DeTect vertical profiler radar used to explore the behavior of bats, birds, and insects in the lower atmosphere. This equipment is being deployed as part of a “radar aeroecology workshop” being conducted here on Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve in early July. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Paul A. Heady III, Research Technician, Central Coast Bat Research Group, Aptos, CA and his wife, Winifred E. Frick, Postdoctoral Scholar, Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Boston University along with the youngest scientist ever to be here doing bat research – their eight month old son, aptly named “Darwin.” Photograph taken by J. David.

There are another twelve scientists with us now. Too many to photograph. Besides, like bats they sleep all day and stay out all night!

I have seven copies of Dr. Kunz’s lecture, “Aeroecology: The Next Frontier” in a pamphlet form. It’s very interesting stuff. I will gladly send it to the first seven people who respond with your name and snail mail address.

There are so many, many good causes that need financial help. Preserving the earth itself is important. So, if you would like to help us with a donation, we are a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation and gifts are deductible to the extent of the law. You can send your contributions to: Bamberger Ranch Preserve, 2341 Blue Ridge Drive, Johnson City, TX 78636.


Helen said...

Wonders at Selah never cease! Great post and yes I'd like to see the aeroecology booklet. You have my address.thanks. Helen Ballew

Sallie said...

Great info...I'd love to come observe the scientists at you know I'm also a nightowl. I'd love to have a copy of the aeroecology booklet.

Julia Gregory said...

Being a long-time Chiroptophile (oh look another new word!) I too would love a copy, if you still have any. Realizing of course that it is probably way over my head. I think you have my address. And greetings to all you Selah folk.