For many years my research interests were in biomechanics, and bats were more of a "hobby". Bats have recently taken the front seat and I have become interested in exploring the relationships between behaviour, ecology and population biology in these fascinating mammals. Despite their small size, bats have a life history strategy of low fecundity and longevity and through their ability to fly, they utilise the landscape on a large scale. Given these factors, and bats´ enormous diversity, they have considerable potential as a model group for studying mammalian population ecology. Much of my work on bats is driven by a concern for their conservation: the very features that make them interesting also make them vulnerable in an ever more fragmented landscape.
Our research is multi-faceted, using a variety of field and lab-based techniques. In field studies, the foraging and social behaviour of bats is studied using mark-recapture techniques and radiotelemetry. We have recently begun to study aspects of behaviour in more detail with the aid of implanted PIT tags so that behaviour can be monitored without capture and disturbance. In the lab, in collaboration with Roger Butlin at Sheffield University, molecular genetic approaches are used to probe mating systems and to study the effects social structure, migration and mating patterns have on population structure. With Stuart Bearhop at Exeter University and Jason Newton at SUERC (Glasgow) we are investigating migration and trophic patterns using tissue stable isotope ratios.
Alongside our work in Europe, we have worked in a number of countries, including Namibia and Honduras. We have recently embarked on a long-term collaborative project with Mahesh Sankaran and Koos Biesmeijer here in Leeds, and their colleagues in India, to study the bats of the Western Ghats. In addition to carrying out the first detailed surveys of the bats we will look at the effects of forest fragmentation on the bat communities and determine the importance of tea and coffee plantations to bats.
Support for our work comes from NERC, the Leverhulme Trust, DEFRA, and a wide range of conservation agencies and charities including the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Park Authorities, Natural England, the Forestry Commission, PTES, and the National Trust.