Texas Tech University

Biologist Launches Worldwide Network to Advance Bat Research

Glenys Young

September 30, 2020

Tigga Kingston

The Global Union of Bat Diversity Networks will fill key knowledge gaps and create an international structure to accelerate discoveries.

There are more than 1,400 living bat species around the world, and they play critical roles in the Earth's ecosystems, including pest suppression, pollination and seed dispersal critical for forest regeneration. However, key aspects of bat biology, from the causes and consequences of population declines to the power of their immune system to tolerate viruses, remain poorly understood.

To coordinate and drive bat research forward, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding the establishment of the Global Union of Bat Diversity Networks (GBatNet) – a group of 14 preexisting bat research networks with a shared vision of advancing our understanding of bat biology and relating those findings to the health of both ecosystems and humans.

The project is spearheaded by Texas Tech University's Tigga Kingston, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences who studies bat diversity and conservation around the world. With a five-year, $1,671,001 collaborative award from the NSF's Accelerating Research through International Network-to-Network Collaborations (AccelNet) program, Kingston and colleagues at the American Museum of Natural History and Stony Brook University are working to create a worldwide "network of networks" to advance bat research. Texas Tech will receive about $1.28 million of that.

Greater horseshoe bat. Credit Daniel Whitby.

"GBatNet brings together experts in paleontology, evolution, morphology, ecology, virology, genomics and conservation from across the networks to ask the fundamental questions, 'Why are there so many species of bats?' and 'How can we secure the future of bats, and the services they provide, in a changing world?'" Kingston said.

Designed to foster new avenues for global research exchange by coordinating joint research, education and outreach, GBatNet will link 14 regional and international bat diversity networks into a "network of networks." The member networks and organizations are:

"GBatNet will provide unparalleled collaborative opportunities for bat research and conservation worldwide, and the U.S. scientific community will gain expanded research opportunities in global, bat diversity hotspots and with networks across diverse disciplines," Kingston said.

Research within the network will address three broad questions:

  • Eco-evolutionary dynamics: What are the feedbacks between ecological function, evolutionary adaptation and rapidly changing environments?

  • Metabolic homeostasis: How do bats maintain metabolic homeostasis, and what are the evolutionary contributions and ecological consequences for populations and species?

  • Tree of sex: What are the evolutionary and ecological consequences of genomic rearrangements seen in bats, especially in sex chromosomes?

In addition to producing research syntheses and developing public outreach materials, the project will synthesize existing datasets to create interdisciplinary tools and protocols to gain insights to complex systems. GBatNet also will build and test predictive models of species vulnerability to ongoing habitat change, emerging infectious diseases and climate change. Professional development of the next generation of scientists in integrative, global research is central to GBatNet activities.

About the Accelerating Research through International Network-to-Network Collaborations program
The Accelerating Research through International Network-to-Network Collaborations (AccelNet) program is designed to accelerate the process of scientific discovery and prepare the next generation of U.S. researchers for multiteam international collaborations. It supports strategic linkages among U.S. research networks and complementary networks abroad that will leverage research and educational resources to tackle grand scientific challenges that require significant, coordinated international efforts.