Friday, October 21, 2005

Holy bat genocide, batgrrl!

Today I'm reporting live from the North American Symposium on Bat Research, in Sacramento, California. Everyone who is anyone in the bat world is here to share research, hobnob, and drink excessively. Yesterday a few of us were able to sneak out in the late afternoon to see some Mexican Freetails emerge from their roosts under the nearby Yolo causeway. But I'll wait to tell you about that until I get a chance to upload my photos. The big buzz at the conference this year is about the effect of wind turbines on bats. You might have heard about this Wind power is "clean" and regenerating and good for the earth. Unless, that is, you happen to be a bat. In fact, windmills situated in eastern and northern forests are just about perfectly designed to attract and kill bats. Oops. Last night there was a meeting specifically to discuss the current situation and share information. We heard preliminary results of a study of windmills along ridges in the midwest. It turns out that over 2000 bats, mainly migrating red bats and hoary bats, were killed at a wind farm of 44 turbines, primarily during fall migration. Someone else said that proposals for over 70,000 turbines were on the table in another state. You can do the math yourself to see that it won't be good for bats. It turns out that these wind farms consist of corridors where the forest is cleared, providing an attractive edge habitat for bats to forage. In addition, the tall windmill posts look amazingly like excellent snags that bats like to use while taking a break from foraging. Except that you can't see the lethally moving blades at the top of them. I saw thermal imaging videos of bats exploring the edges of stationary or slow-moving blades, so they're definitely attracted, and curious. And I saw a video of a bat flying along and being struck by a fast moving blade, and bouncing away like a ball struck by a baseball bat. The windmills in this study were moderately sized, but the new breed of windmills going up in the US and Canada are truly stupendous, with blades that are 45 meters long. That means the total diameter of these windmills is just about the size of a football field. There is some hope in this bleak picture. It's possible that we can generate really loud ultrasonic emissions that would keep the bats from exploring the giant "snags" and keep them safe. Additionally, it appears that the highest mortality rates are during times of low wind, when it may be possible to persuade the windmill operators to slow or stop the blades since they're not generating power anyway. Much research is going on to understand what's really going on. We don't even know how many bats are passing through this area to understand the percentage of the population that is being killed or the magnitude of the concern. It's exciting to see the scientists mobilizing around this, even though the topic is gruesome and sad. I'd be interested in working on this problem in some way, to combine doing science with doing good. OK, back to learning about bats...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I'm not in Kansas anymore

It's the height of midterm season here on campus. And I've been having a bit of a meltdown. In my previous life, I was really good at figuring out how great things could be, and planning how to make it happen, and then making it happen. I got lots of money and praise for these skills. I thought they would transfer nicely to my new life. What I didn't realize was how much it cost me to do it. What ended up happening was that I seriously overestimated how much I could get done, and even how much I wanted to get done. My "planner brain" came up with a great roadmap to my shiny future, which involved among other things starting grad school next fall. Well, I'm here to report that it just ain't going to happen. First of all, my professors have assigned an insane amount of work. All of it, taken bit by bit, is really interesting. However, when I have to read dozens of scientific journal articles about topics I barely understand in the next few days before I can even begin to write the take-home exam for physiology, it ceases to be fun. And the point of my new life is to stop doing things that aren't fun. Tiny conflict here. Plus, I've made zero progress toward studying for the GRE, or researching grad schools, except to find out that most of them require completed applications by January 1. Uncle. I'm not going to grad school next fall. Finally, I don't have time for bat stuff!!!!! This is the suckiest part. I know that what I'm learning is important, but I was really hoping I could get started on some kind of research project. Nope. Not so far. Back to that planner brain of mine. Once it comes up with that glorious plan, some kind of irrational enthusiasm sets in and I get attached to that outcome. You know what happens next, of course. I fall short of the plan! I get resentful of the unrealistic goals. I begin to sabotage myself by getting sick, or not being able to concentrate. In physics, you might say that resistance, or impedance, increases. Everything gets hard. I turn into a stress puppy. And I'm not even getting paid for it. Is it possible to leverage my planning skills in a way that is healthy? What does that look like? Can I learn to recognize the symptoms of resistance in my body, and trace it back to whatever I'm resisting, before I get sick? Will I finish the semester with any respect for physiology? Stay tuned for the next chapter, same bat-time, same bat-channel.