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More notes for St Clair Cave: Nov 3, 2012, May 8, 2011, January 19-20, 2010, March 19, 2009, Aug 3, 2008, July 29, 2008, June 3, 2006, March 21, 2006, March 21, 2006.

St Clair Cave
August 21-23, 2011
Team: RS Stewart, Yvonne Dzal, Nina Veselka
Notes: RS Stewart
Video (36MB WMV)

Nina and Yvonne in the field at Pollyground, Aug 21/11
St Clair Cave, and environs, has been the focus of many bat research projects over the years. This report will address the most recent, that of Nina Veselka for her Masters degree in the last week of August, 2011. First, I will describe the nature of the project using material from Nina's grant proposal:

Bats provide a fascinating system in which to study the importance of trade-offs in constraining phenotypic evolution. As the only mammals capable of powered flight, bats have been able to exploit novel ecological niches and are one of the most diverse groups of mammals. Their commitment to flight has resulted in highly specialized forelimbs: their arms, wrists and hands have been modified into wings. However, this has limited how bats use their forelimbs for activities other than flight. The consumption of food, for example, is necessary for survival, and many mammals use their arms and hands to collect and handle food items.

In bats, thumbs are the only structures of the forelimbs that do not contribute to supporting the flight surface. Although several studies have confirmed that bats use their wings during feeding, few have provided details on how thumbs are used for food handling. The project is focussed on New World leaf-nosed bats (phyllostomids), which exhibit the greatest diversity of all living mammals (feeding on fruit, insects, frogs, nectar, blood). Dumont, et al. have found that the evolution of fruit consumption in phyllostomids led to high rates of species diversification. Keeping this in mind, the project has two main hypotheses:

Hypotheses: The transition from fruit consumption to insectivory in phyllostomids is correlated with increased thumb use.
Prediction: Frugivorous phyllostomids will use their thumbs more frequently than non-frugivores (since fruit is relatively large and requires more mechanical processing before consumption than do insects).

Hypotheses: There is an evolotionary relationship between thumb size and diet.
Prediction: Fruit bats will have longer thumbs than non-frugivores.

To help test the prediction that frugivores use their thumbs more frequently than non-frugivores to manipulate food, the bats were captured in mist nets, transferred to the field-station, and videoed using infrared light that provided illumination without disturbing the bats. Bats that have a frugivorous diet should use their thumbs more than insectivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous bats. Frugivores should also exhibit a greater number of thumb movements than as they manipulate food during consumption.

To test the evolutionary relationship betweent thumb size and diet, thumb lengths were measured with calipers.

Now, an account of the field activities.

Yvonne and Nina at Marie's - Aug 22/11
Nina and her field assistant, Yvonne Dzal, had spent the first of their two weeks at Windsor, Trelawny. On Saturday, August 20, I made the run across from Pollyground to pick them up and bring them to Marie's, where Burton Lim and others had stayed in the past. It's very close to where I live, and only a 30 minute hike from St Clair Cave. They spent this first day settling in, and taking a needed break.

On Sunday, August 21, we began the fieldwork by trekking to the main entrance of St Clair at about 16:00, and setting up a 3m mist net, set about 5m back from the entrance pit. I had warned them that unlike Windsor Cave, where they hadn't actually gotten many bats in the nets, at St Clair the problem would be the opposite - if they used too long a net, they wouldn't be able to keep up with the numbers caught, and we'd have too many bats hanging in the net for too long. The prediction was accurate, and the 3m net was certainly as much as we could handle during the evening.

The first bat was caught at 18:02, one of the two small Pteronotus, either a macleayii (P.m) or a quadridens (P.q). We wouldn't know until later when it was processed, because the only way of telling the difference is to measure the forelimb - the quadridens are always under 41mm, and the macleayii are over 41mm. The second bat, a Mormoops blainvillii, was caught at 18:05, the third, another P.m or P.q, came at 18:13, and then the numbers began to rapidly increase. The main surge was from between 18:40 and 19:30, during which time we caught somewhere on the order of 100-150 bats. Towards the end, most were simply removed and released, rather than bagged for processing.

The net was taken down at 19:50, after we'd finally removed all of the bats. I did what I could to help with this, but some were too tangled for me to manage, and I had to leave them for Nina or Yvonne. During the first while, I received some rather painful bites, as usual. However, I did seem to improve later on, thanks to Nina's guidance, and was doing pretty good at the end.

Only four species were caught, Pteronotus parnellii (P.p), Pteronotus macleayii, Pteronotus quadridens, and Mormoops blainvillii (M.b). The bats we'd bagged were processed (identified, weighed, sexed, and forearms measured) from 20:00 until about 23:30, and we then hiked back to Pollyground, reaching Marie's at about midnight.

Ariteus flavescens, Aug 22/11
The next day, the 22nd, Nina decided to set nets in the area of the river, rather than at the cave, to increase our chances of getting a phyllostomid (the focus of her research), which we hadn't caught at the cave itself. We set out not long after 16:00, with the hike taking only about 15 minutes. Two 15m nets were set in a "V" on the side of the river, and we settled in to wait. Not long after 18:00, we began to see bats flying along the river, but all were too high to enter the nets. A few came close, but at 20:15, we still had nothing. I suggested we set another short net across the track that leads to the river where Burton had had success earlier in the year. This was done, and at 20:45 we caught our first bat of the night, an Ariteus flavescens (A.f), which is the smaller of the two Jamaican fruit bats (the larger is Artibeus jamaicensis). The species is a phyllostomid, and Nina finally had something to study.

At 21:25, the second bat of the evening was caught - an Artibeus in the river nets. At 22:00, a third bat, another Ariteus, was caught in the net across the track, and that was it for the night. We hung in until about 23:00, then gave up and returned to Marie's with what we had. The night was not too unsuccessful, though - we'd capture only three specimes, but at least they were all phyllostomids.

The next evening, the 23rd, we again ignored the cave and set nets on the approach to the river, and across the river somewhat upstream of the "V" net of the night before. The nets were designated, and located, as such:
N1 - a 5m net about 1/3 of the way through the bushy saddle on the track that leads to the river,
N2 - a 3m net at the same location as the second net on the 22nd, which is about 2/3 of the way through the saddle,
N3 - a 15m net right across the river just upstream of the track.

Artibeus jamaicensis - Aug 23/11
There had been heavy rain in the local catchment area of the river, Lluidas Vale and Crofts Hill, on the afternoon of the 22nd, and the water had risen overnight from almost dry to about 50cm deep. This is normal behaviour for the river - it rises and falls almost daily depending on local rainfall, sometimes by over a metre. However, the evening was clear, and the location of Net 3, above a rocky section, allowed us to keep our feet dry. All three nets were set by 18:00, and again we settled in to wait.

The first bats, two P.p, were caught in N1 at 18:40. Next was N2 with a P.p at 19:05, a M.b at 19:10, and an A.j at 19:25. Nothing was caught in N3, the river net, until an A.j entered it at about 21:45. I write "about", because all three of us had fallen asleep for a little while on rocks beside the net, and it was 21:45 when the first of us, me, woke back up to find a bat in the net. In our defense, I must note that we'd been out there the two previous nights until midnight, and we were all rather beat. N1 yielded another Pteronotus sp. at 22:00, N2 an A.f at 22:05, and N3 a final two A.j at 23:10.

We'd had plenty of time to process bats as we went along, so it didn't take us long to finish up when the nets came down about 23:30. We hiked back out and reached Marie's about 00:30.

It should be mentioned that although my participation was ending about midnight on the three nights, Nina and Yvonne were up for hours afterwards videoing the frugivores, Artibeus and Ariteus, as they fed in a small enclosure at Marie's.

On Thursday, August 25, we had to make a run into Kingston so that Nina could show her data and specimens to NEPA in order to finish up the paperwork. Once we'd reached there, we were told that it would take several hours to have the permit prepared, and that we also needed to go to Veterinarian Services to clear things through them. Their office was kilometers away, up Old Hope Road, but we had time to kill anyway, so we headed off to take care of it. Now follows the most bizarre encounter with a Jamaican government agency that I've ever had.

Stef and Christina, Aug 28/11
It was not easy finding Veterinarian Services. We had been told it was on Old Hope Road, that it was not very far past the American embassy, and that there was a sign out front. We spotted a number of government agencies, but saw no trace of our goal, and certainly no sign. After much searching and asking, we found it tucked away behind a number of other buildings with a very small sign over the door. But good enough, we'd found the thing, and there were parking spots. Nina (with her pickled bats safely ensconced, appropriately, in a large pickle jar,) Yvonne, and I headed in. I took it upon myself to inform the receptionist why we were there, as my grasp of Jamaican English is better than Nina's. The receptionist seemed rather confused, but disappeared into the offices in the rear of the building, and soon reappeared with a man whom we assumed would be able to take care of things. I explained the reason for our visit again, and again met with confusion. His first question was, "What are the bats made of?" I did my best to make him understand that Nina had collected "ratbats", and we'd been sent here by NEPA. Nina, helpfully, produced the pickle jar. This did not immediately clear things up, probably because there were several dozen small, dark brown bats crowded inside, with them actually looking more like large, smoked mussels rather than ratbats. A couple of other Veterinarian Services employees joined us who also examined Nina's catch. More explanations, and close-up peering into the jar, finally accomplished something. With a sudden look of recognition on his face, the man who seemed most senior realized what he was staring at. "Ahh, they're ratbats!". The others chimed in with similar comments. Now that we'd make progress on what we'd brought, I again explained why we'd come, and passed things on to Nina.

It soon became clear that Veterinarian Services did not really care what Nina was doing, and what she had in her pickle jar, since the bats were quite dead, and thusly beyond their purview. Indeed, even if the bats had been alive, they're not exactly livestock, and I doubt they would have been terribly concerned. They did try to ask some pertinent questions, though, such as if NEPA had issued permits. Nina's assurances that all permits were in place adequately satisfied them, and after some pleasantries, and amused smiles on both sides, we left to wend our way back to the NEPA offices. Once there, the final paperwork was received, and we began our drive back to Pollyground, becoming somewhat lost in Kingston as we did so. Fortunately, I eventually spotted the Halfway Tree bus terminal, figured out where we were, and got out of town.

My fieldwork with Nina and Yvonne was now finished, but on Sunday, August 28, I had the pleasure of them joining Christina (wifey) and I for my birthday bashment at Marie's. Being very good sports, they donned little aprons that Christina supplied, and helped her with the cooking. All three looked very cute. Afterwards, an appropriate amount of Red Stripe was consumed, and I assume I had a good time, although my memories of the final hours of the evening are a little vague.

I would like to pass along my great respect for Nina and Yvonne. They are dedicated, committed, and quite happy to pass along their knowledge and techniques to those who collaborate with them, such as myself. I learned a lot, and am very thankful for it.

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