University of Calgary

Student explores bat health

Ectoparasites and Health of Bat Populations

By Nicole Ouellet

Erin Swerdfeger, a recent graduate of the Faculty of Science, is spending her summer researching ectoparasites and how they affect the health of bats.

Swerdfeger explains that very little is known about bats and information that is collected on the types of parasites found on each bat species is valuable knowledge to better understand the health and longevitiy of these creatures.

“Bats play a very important role in the ecosystem, and they are often misunderstood by people. Bat health can potentially influence their ability to reproduce,” says Swerdfeger. “Bats also live a really long time compared to other mammals of a similar size, so the health of individual bats could play an important role in determining long-term population health.”

During her research, Swerdfeger will compare parasite load on bats, as an indicator of bat health, to find out if the number of parasites on bats is affected more by specific location, or if there is a broader regional trend in amount and types of ectoparasites found on bats in and around Calgary. 

“I predict that parasite load varies with species, sex, age, reproductive condition and roost type. If local habitat affects parasite load, I expect to see greater variation in parasites per bat at a regional scale.”

Swerdfeger is conducting her research under the supervision of Dr. Robert Barclay. She is also working with PhD candidate Joanna Coleman and her other field assistants Andrew Goldie, Nathalie Boulic and Alex Bugajski to collect data for Coleman’s project as well as her own.

At the end of the summer Swerdfeger will submit a report of her research to the PURE awards committee and participate in the Annual Fall Poster Symposium sponsored by the Students’ Union.

“If all goes well, I would also like to try to contribute to academic knowledge by submitting a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal,” says Swerdfeger.

Next on Swerdfeger’s agenda – she plans on working for a couple of years in a field related to wildlife biology in other countries.

“In the long term, I would like to do research or work  in an area contributing to the knowledge of the impact that people have on the world around them and vice versa,” says Swerdfeger. “

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