Emerging Scholars: Graduate Student Researchers on Bat Behaviour and Hydrological Cycles in Newfoundland.

Miss Darrian Washinger conduct,ing field research; Photo by Darrian Washinger.

Welcome to Emerging Researchers, Insight-blog’s new series showcasing Grenfell’s student researchers across all graduate disciplines. In this segment we feature Miss Darrian Washinger and Mr. Sashika Perera. Both students are in the Boreal Ecosystems and Agricultural Sciences (BEAS) program.

Bat Activity in Gros Morne National Park

Miss Washinger, from Pennsylvania, USA, attended Susquehanna University and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Ecology. Her undergraduate research focused on studying eastern coyote diet. Washinger came to Newfoundland because her work interests aligned with Dr. Erin Fraser, researcher and biology professor at Grenfell Campus. Washinger, who has several years of experience as a Bat Survey Technician and has extensively worked outdoors, stated that Grenfell’s proximity to pristine landscapes influenced her decision to come to Western Newfoundland:

“I loved that I would have the opportunity to work in the beautiful, unique Gros Morne National Park.”

Currently, she is studying how bat activity is correlated with disturbances at several different spatial scales in Gros Morne National Park (GMNP), Newfoundland. In the first chapter of her thesis, she hypothesized that, due to hyperabundant moose populations that create “moose meadows” in GMNP, insect populations would decrease due to the less suitable habitat. The drop in insects would then cause a decrease in those animals that depend on them for food, such as bats.

For data gathering, Washinger collected insects and acoustically monitored bats in different types of habitats, from moose meadows to mature forests. She generated three model sets, each with a different set of explanatory variables: environmental, insect, and vegetation, and used second-order Akaike information criterion to estimate the quality of each set. Insect collection across habitats demonstrated that moose meadows were less suitable for insects, but the reduction of insect biomass did not appear to influence bat traffic in those areas.

Darrian Bat
One of the bats captured through harp trapping during Washinger’s volunteer time with the Wildlife Division; Photo by Darrian Washinger.

Washinger, Also citing that other factors such as White Nose Syndrome have put many bat species at risk, stated:

“Bats are important both ecologically and economically – certain bats can pollinate flowers while others are insectivorous and have saved humans millions of dollars in agricultural pest control – yet their populations have been in decline all around the world.”

The fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) was discovered originally in New York in 2006, but reached Newfoundland in 2017. This highly contagious disease, believed to have come from Europe in clothing or hiking gear, causes bats to wake up early during their hibernation, which in turn forces them to burn off fat reserves and kills them. Mortality rates in caves have been shown to be as high as 99%.

Miss Washinger is currently working with Dr. Fraser and Dr. Tom Knight from Parks Canada. She hopes to get at job in wildlife conservation and to continue working with bats, but she’s open to other opportunities in academia.

Climate Change Influence on Hydrological Behaviour

Mr Sashika Perera studied Geology, Physics and Chemistry at the University of Peradeniya. He left his home in Kandy, Sri Lanka to pursue higher studies in Western Newfoundland. Before coming to Grenfell, Mr Perera worked as a research assistant at the National Institute of Fundamental Studies (NIFS), a multidisciplinary research institute “for advancing fundamental science and nurturing future scientists.” He worked in the field of geology, specifically looking at hydrology and prediction of ungauged basins. Additionally, he has worked in the fields of groundwater extraction and investigation, deep-well design, groundwater contamination mapping, and landslide investigation.

Sash 2
Mr. Sashika Perera in the field collecting data; Photo by Sashika Perera.

Mr Perera’s research as a Grenfell graduate student is focused on how hydrological cycle behaviours, at different geographical levels, are influenced by weather extremes deriving from climate changes. He is working on estimating potential evapotranspiration (water transpired by plants and evaporation of soil moisture – PET) and water balances in Newfoundland. He believes that studying and trying to understand the impacts of climate change on food security is an important matter.

“These issues have become a primary concern of every country of the world by now as eventually changes to the hydrological cycle and its behaviour may affect many important actions from agricultural purposes.”

Said Mr Perera, adding that Newfoundland relies on rainfed crops, and changes to the water cycle can significantly influence the health of food security in the province.

His research is statistical, as he is using six different PET estimating equations and 70 years’ worth of weather data collected from weather stations around Newfoundland (the data includes total precipitation (PPT) and temperature records). In standard statistical research, the best-suggested equation to estimate PET is the FAO recommended Penman-Monteith equation. However, due to the reduced availability of weather data needed around the island, it is imperative to identify a suitable substitute equation and is vital to understand and better estimate PET in the province.

“It is also important for stakeholders to understand future trends of aforementioned weather parameters to make decisions involving expanding agricultural land area, etc.”

This climate prediction, along with soil and crop data, could help model better cropping systems to increase agricultural productivity, which in turn would alleviate food insecurity in the province.

Perera is planning on furthering his education with a PhD specializing on hydrology and climate effects. His end goal is to work either in academic research or as a hydrologist.

Research in the physical and social sciences has become a key tool for policy making because it helps to identify issues, assess policies, inform decision makers, plan procedures, etc. Students such as Miss Washinger and Mr. Perera have, and will continue to provide valuable research that translates to real-life solutions in an evolving world.


Written by Mayra Sanchez; Edited by Darrian Washinger & Sash Perera


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