Drones Fly Through Flocks of Bats, Scientists Study Animal Communication

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The United States Department of Defense is participating in interesting studies on animals like bats. In an effort to make things easy for scientists, drones have been flown through flocks of bats.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s studies are not just limited to bats. They have studied walruses, lizards, marmots, birds and arachnids. One of the topics they study is animals communication.

Daniel Blumstein, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA, talked about nature and humans studying it. “By understanding nature, you can steal those ideas and capitalize on them and solve human problems,” Blumstein said.

In the summer of 2017, experts in related fields began to study in Omaha. They went to the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium for a conference. The conference lasted a total of five days, and scientists from six different continents attended.

Erick Greene, a professor of biology for the University of Montana, said sound was one of the subjects they examined. “We have heard about crickets and whales and stuff that uses sound below what we can hear and way above what we can hear,” Greene said.

Information about how long-horned grasshoppers can detect sounds out of the air with their legs and how caterpillars make sounds to mimic their predators to avoid being eaten was presented during the conference.

This information from animals is especially useful in the development of sonar-scientists mimicked how bats and dolphins communicate. Hearing aids are made possible from research on how animals can hear and speak.

Ed Walsh, a biomedical scientist, is working on a Omaha study about tigers. According to Walsh, tigers have unique hearing abilities, and each tiger’s roar is distinct.

“Very little of what we did had been known when we started,” Walsh said. “Most of the things we learned were firsts, which is kind of cool.” Walsh is working on identifying tigers roars similar to “fingerprints.” The hope is that it could be used for endangered tigers.

In addition, Walsh also looks at how tigers hear and identify sound. The inner ear of a tiger is different than other species, and this could help better understand people’s hearing and lead to even further developments in hearing technology.

Unfortunately, money in the research industry is not always readily available. “The current political climate has led to significant reductions in the allocations to the agencies that typically fund this kind of work,” Walsh said. “Funding for this kind of research is a bad, or worse, than at any time in my career.”

Walsh said that approximately $500,000 is needed to complete his “fingerprinting” project on tigers.

Recently, anti-poaching has been discouraged, and more money is devoted to the cause. The United States Agency for International Development increased spending from $13 million to $67 million from 2012 to 2015 for wildlife tracking in Asia and Africa.

Walsh understands poaching is the top priority. “I completely agree with them,” Walsh said. “If I were to vote on this, I would say ‘Fund those guys before you fund me, because those are the guys on the front lines doing their best to stop the extinction.'”

Walsh also said it can be challenging to convince people to fund his work.

Laura Kloepper, an assistant professor in biology at St. Mary’s College in Indiana, said, “The public, they don’t really appreciate how often new discoveries are made and how those new discoveries could take us down paths that we could never have even imagined yesterday, let alone 10 or 20 years ago.”