University of Dubuque Research to be Presented in International Competition

Aug 11, 2016 | Stacey Ortman, University Relations

DUBUQUE, Iowa – University of Dubuque’s Meagan Albon (C’18) and University of California, Berkeley’s Madeleine Zuercher (C’19) have partnered to represent the United States at the 13th annual International Junior Foresters’ Competition from Sept. 4-9, 2016, in Peterhof, Russia.

The students will present “Bat Ecology in a Northeastern Iowa Forest: Determining Spatial and Temporal Patterns and Exposure Risk to the White-Nose Syndrome Fungus.”

Sponsored by the Russian Federal Forest Agency, the competition will bring together youth, ages 14 to 22, from nations around the world to promote and reward young scientists for their interest and efforts in the environmental field and to encourage international dialogue on forestry issues. The U.S. Forest Service selected only one project to participate.

“This is an ultimate example of academic achievement,” said Dr. Gerald Zuercher, professor of vertebrate ecology at UD. “They’re representing the country in an academic venture. That carries a lot of weight with it in terms of the academic world.”

Gerald Zuercher asked his bat research project technicians – Albon and Zuercher, his daughter – if they would like to submit an application for the competition. They were surprised to be selected.

“My stomach dropped,” Albon said. “It was incredible. I’m still in shock.”

Bat research started at UD five years ago when Megan Johnson (C’13) received a Joseph and Linda Chlapaty Summer Fellowship. The University was eventually invited by Effigy Mounds National Monument to document the park’s bat community and assess the risk of exposure to the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome. The fungus wakes hibernating bats, which causes them to search for food and water. Gerald Zuercher said the bats essentially starve to death.

The northern long-eared bat is one of the species of bats most impacted by the fungus. It was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. UD researchers have found a community with more of those species of bats than suspected in Effigy Mounds, which Gerald Zuercher said suggests that the location is important to the bats.

“With their designation as a threatened species, the need to really further investigate and assess their risk became even higher,” Zuercher said.

Albon started to research bats in the field earlier this summer.

 “I didn’t really know how to handle a bat until this summer,” she said. “The first time I handled a bat I was kind of nervous because, you know, it’s a bat. It’s just been an amazing experience going from working in a lab to doing all of the field work.”

Gerald Zuercher said the students’ research matters.

“What these ladies are finding out is going to have an impact for decades,” he said. “It’s going to help a national park make decisions about how they manage their resources. It’s going to give us baseline information to compare against as environments change as this fungal disease moves through. It’s important to know what it should look like so you know how it has changed.”

For the competition, the students prepared a written submission. They will receive 10 minutes to present to a panel of international judges with an additional five minutes to answer questions. The U.S. Forest Service is covering travel expenses, while the Russian Forestry Federation Agency is covering all in-country expenses for the competitors.