Ron Van Den Bussche – Bat Genetics


So basically there’s two areas of research. We use genetic techniques to either study evolutionary relationships of bats, or then we use genetic techniques to aid in management in threatened or endangered species of bats. So one’s an applied and ones a basic research question. There’s a species of bat in Oklahoma, there’s only 1100 of those individuals left in the world. About 1000 of those occur in Eastern Oklahoma. The other approximately 100-200 occur in Western Oklahoma. So they are highly endangered federally threatened bat that we know very little about. As far as previous genetic work, my lab’s the only one who’s done any work on that, and that’s restricted to 5 caves in Eastern Oklahoma. We just got funding to study the genetics of the entire population, and this really has two significant implications. One is: Because of the distribution of these bats, they’re highly endangered. How do we best manage these bats, so that we don’t lose them, so they don’t all go extinct. Adding to that is the fact that there is a disease that is wiping out millions of bats that’s moving down from the Northeast. It’s already killed millions of bats in the Northeast, which has significant ecologic and economic implications. That disease has now moved into Missouri and Western Oklahoma. It’s jumped over Eastern Oklahoma so far, but if this disease hits these bats it could wipe out these bats completely. So part of what our study is, is the aid and the management, but one possibility is that they will try and bring these bats into captivity to prevent death. In order to do that we have to understand much more about the genetic structure, the mating system, things like that. My lab is generating the genetic data to assist Fish and Wildlife and Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in making those decisions. For this funded project, just this one bat. But we’ve just finished a project, an NSF funded project where we work on a family of bats that has worldwide distribution. There’s over 400 species in this one family, so we’ve just finished up the funding but we continue to work on that. That’s a group that I’ve been working on for the past 10 years, so really my lab work is on bats from all over the world.

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