The Vincent Weir Scientific Award - Winners
The Vincent Weir Scientific Award was first established in 2010. The prize has been presented to a winner in each subsequent year at BCT's National Bat Conference. We are proud to recognise the achievements of these remarkable new researchers and their contributions to bat conservation:
Patrick Wright (Award Winner 2019)
Dr Patrick Wright (University of Exeter, in collaboration with the Vincent Weir Trust) is the 2019 winner of the award for the development and application of cutting edge molecular approaches to significantly advance bat monitoring techniques.
Patrick’s PhD research demonstrated that the British population of Bechstein’s bat is less inbred than previously feared. However, he also identified the colony with much lower diversity than is the norm in Britain, which is concerning as the home woodland of this colony lies on the route of the new HS2 rail-link, and habitat fragmentation may therefore be particularly damaging.
Patrick also pioneered a new method for assessing the age of bats. Age assessment in any wild animal is notoriously difficult — all the more so in elusive tree-roosting species — and his approach has the potential to fundamentally change the field. He set up a partnership with Exeter’s faculty of clinical medicine, and used the degree of DNA methylation to assess age. This is the first application in bats, and only the second time methylation assessment has been used in any wild species. Patrick is now a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sussex.
Liz Rowse (Award Winner 2018)
We are delighted to announce that Liz Rowse, currently in the final year of her PhD at the University of Bristol is this year’s recipient. Liz has been researching the effects of artificial light at night on bats. As part of her research, Liz conducted a large-scale field experiment investigating the switch over from orange low-pressure sodium lamps to the more energy efficient LED's finding no effect of the switch over on species richness and activity of bats. Liz’s findings are encouraging, suggesting that the change will provide a lower carbon footprint while not impacting further upon bats.
However, given that some bat species are light-averse and avoid all light types of, she used another field experiment to investigate the effects of dimming LEDs on bats and found that when LEDs were dimmed to 25% of output compared with dark control conditions, activity levels of the light-adverse Myotis species was maintained; so this has identified a mitigation method for maintaining high levels of activity in light-averse bats, while still providing light for human security. Liz’s work has been designed in collaboration with local councils, and she has communicated these findings to lighting professionals.
Liz will be picking up the award and presenting a talk on her work at the next South West Regional conference (March 2019)
Jeremy Froidevaux (Award Winner 2017)
Jeremy Froidevaux (University of Bristol) is the 2017 winner of the award for furthering our understanding of bats in forests and agricultural landscapes. Before he arrived in the UK, Jeremy had completed a Master’s at the University of Montpellier during which time he investigated foraging activity in woodlands – this study emphasised the importance of canopy gaps for foraging bats, and highlighted how novel imaging methods (LiDAR) can be used to assess bat habitats in ways previously not possible, and how forest suitability can be quantified remotely.
He then moved to Bristol and started investigating the effects of agri-environment schemes on bats. Earlier this year he had a study published that used data collected by BCT volunteers through the NBMP to determine mechanisms driving recent population increases in greater horseshoe bats. Jeremy discovered that climate warming was the key driver. Whilst the extent of land under agri-environments schemes did not correlate with rates of population change. Nonetheless, these schemes are protecting habitats associated with large colony sizes in greater horseshoe bats.
His next study compared bats and spiders in conventional and organic vineyards in France, which showed that sedentary spiders seem to benefit more from local management practices than do more mobile bats, whose activity levels are more influenced by landscape features in the surrounding environment.
Jeremy published his work in Remote Sensing of the Environment, Biodiversity & Conservation, Agricultural Ecosystems and the Environment.
Rachael Cooper-Bohannon (Award Winner in 2016)
We are delighted to announce that Rachael Cooper-Bohannon (University of Stirling) is the 2016 winner of the award for her contribution on identifying priority areas for bat conservation in southern Africa.
In this study, Rachael used species distribution models to model species current distributions and assess species richness across southern Africa and within each of the seven major biotic zones. These species distributions were then used to identify range-restricted and narrow niche breadth species, alongside other features considered to put species at risk. The key message from this study was that if only areas of high species richness are prioritised as important, then the areas identified with low species richness but rare, at risk or endemic species would be excluded.
Other chapters in Rachael’s thesis examining the potential impacts of climate change on species distributions, and developing a species monitoring networks for bats in southern Africa, are currently being prepared for publication.
Rachael was awarded her PhD in September 2015. This was an ambitious and logistically demanding project that involved field work across a huge area of Africa. However somehow, in between fieldwork and fundraising for project costs, she also found time to set up the charity Bats without Borders which works across southern Africa to conserve bat populations and biodiversity through education, capacity building and research
Paul Lintott, University of Stirling (Award Winner in 2015)
Paul Lintott (University of Stirling) is this year’s winner of the award for the substantial contribution his research has made to our understanding of how bats respond to urbanisation at a range of spatial scales.
Paul’s research uncovered striking and consistent differential responses in habitat use between the two morphologically similar species, Pipistrellus pipistrellus and P. pygmaeus. Specifically, these species differed in their response to habitat structure and the built-environment; strongly suggesting that P. pygmaeus is the more sensitive to urbanisation. He also found differences in the response of male and female P. pygmaeus to woodland structure and landscape configuration which has important implications for woodland management and interpretation of acoustic surveys, which are unable to distinguish between the sexes.
In an attempt to increase the species diversity he was recording Paul spent one summer kayaking the waterways of Britain surveying the use of urban rivers and canals by bats. He managed to collect sufficient field data for a paper in the journal Biological Conservation.
Collectively, these papers have greatly added to our understanding of how two of our commonest bat species are negatively influenced by urbanisation and has practical relevance to the management of our urban landscapes, and the remaining pockets of “bat friendly” habitat contained within.
As well as the content, the judges were particuarly impressed by the productivity of this PhD thesis; it contains seven data chapters of which five chapters have already been published in the scientific literature.
Emma Stone, University of Bristol (Award Winner in 2010)
Emma Stone was the very first winner of the Vincent Weir Scientific Award in recognition of her innovative and influential research on the impact of street lighting on lesser horseshoe bats. Emma’s experiments mimicked the spectral content and light intensity of high pressure sodium street lighting, a common type in the UK. She demonstrated that for some bat species lighting can reduce foraging activity considerably, with potential fitness consequences. This contradicted a previous widely-held belief that street lighting benefited bats because some species had been observed feeding on insects that are attracted by lights. Emma’s research was published in Current Biology, featured in several major news papers and media reports, and has been of great interest to ecological consultants concerned with mitigating for the effects of light.
Matt Zeale, University of Bristol (Award Winner in 2011)
Matt Zeale’s thesis ‘Conservation biology of the barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus made a substantial contribution to understanding the ecology of barbastelles. Matt studied habitat and roost selection, and predicted the presence of the species in forests in South Wales using Maxent modelling, subsequently going on to confirm the presence of three new colonies. His main achievement was the development of a new method for identifying insect prey species in bat droppings through the use of PCR and cloning. The method was developed in collaboration with researchers at NERC’s Sheffield Molecular Genetics Unit. The technique is expected to revolutionise future understanding of bat feeding ecology, having worldwide relevance for bat conservation biology research. Matt’s PhD research was published in Molecular Ecology Resources and Current Biology.
Elisa Fuentes-Montemayor, University of Stirling (Joint Award Winner in 2012)
Elisa won the award for her thesis and published work on the value of agri-environment schemes and farm woodland for bat and nocturnal Lepidoptera assemblages. Elisa’s research addresses the scale of management required for different taxa and provides an evidence base for influencing improvement in the management of agricultural and forest landscapes in the UK. In particular, Elisa’s research has contributed much needed information relevant to the creation and management of one of the most important of bat habitats, woodland. Elisa published her research in Journal of Applied Ecology, Biological Conservation and Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.
Orly Razgour, University of Bristol (Joint Award Winner in 2012)
Orly’s PhD research has made an important contribution to understanding the ecological requirements of one of Britain’s least known mammals, the grey long-eared bat Plecotus austriacus. Her research has been innovative in several biological disciplines and extended the application of Maxent modelling and DNA sequencing for bat ecology. Her work has revealed the broad and fine-scale habitat requirements of this species and its particular association with unimproved grasslands; shown the substantial dietary overlap between grey and brown long-eared bats and estimated the effective population size of the UK population. Orly published papers in Biological Conservation and Ecology and Evolution, before her PhD was completed. After she won the award, she produced a conservation management plan for the grey long-eared bat in collaboration with BCT.
Charlotte Walters, University of Kent and Institute of Zoology (Award Winner in 2013)
Charlotte Walters' PhD research has made a substantial contribution to more effective monitoring of UK (and European) bats and improved understanding of their distribution and future threats. Charlotte developed the first automatic tool for acoustic identification of bats that can be applied consistently across the UK and wider Europe for over 30 species and has made this freely available online. The judges were particularly impressed by the innovation and technical quality of her research, and the output of high-quality publications she achieved during her studentship. Charlotte’s publications include a paper in Journal of Applied Ecology and several book chapters.
Anna Berthinussen, Leeds University (Award Winner in 2014)
Anna’s research has increased our understanding of the effects that roads have on bats and, importantly, the effectiveness of two widely used mitigation methods. She showed that foraging was markedly reduced with proximity to roads, taking into account any differences in habitat, bat activity and diversity. Anna tested the efficacy of bat gantries and underpasses which are common mitigation techniques used by road developers to satisfy legal requirements to reduce the impacts of roads. She found bat gantries were ineffective and rarely used by bats, even if they had been in place for many years. In contrast, underpasses or green bridges show greater potential but only if carefully positioned along existing commuting routes. More than anything her study demonstrated the need for robust monitoring when trialling potential mitigation measures. As a direct result of her work, Defra commissioned a project, which Anna is now working on, to develop reliable methods of assessing the impact of roads and railways on bats and the effectiveness of mitigation strategies. Her work has been published in PLOS ONE, an open access journal (Click here to read her article)