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Internship at Max Planck Institute for Ornithology – Animal Movement Analysis

Anna-Lena Hendel, student of the graduate program “Global Change Ecology” at the University of Bayreuth, completed her internship at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology this spring, where she joined the department of Migration and Immuno-ecology.

Within this group, scientists study the global movements of animals, analyze how animals survive often long and dangerous journeys, and how their movements are influenced and determined by environmental parameters and physiological adaptations. Throughout the last years, the group has been closely working together with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Russian Aerospace Agency (ROSCOSMOS) to overcome the current limitations for tracking animals. With the project ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) they will now launch a new system on the International Space Station (ISS) to track even small animals across the globe - remotely from space. After the launch scientists will be able to shed light on many grant challenges in environmental science like the spread of infectious diseases, the provisioning of ecosystem services and the conservation of endangered species. Additionally, this data could also be used for disaster forecast and as a remote sensing system to understand global change, since animals are extremely sensitive towards their environment.

Main part - tasks, accomplishments
During her internship, Anna-Lena analyzed Global Positioning System (GPS)- and 3-dimensional accelerometry data of the straw-colored fruit bat (Eidolon helvum) to understand the adaptations and strategies of the bat to deal with food-scarcity. For many African countries Eidolon might be the keystone species for seed-dispersal and pollination. Their colonies can reach a size of up to several thousands to even millions of individuals. Usually, the bats roost together during the day, fly long distances during the night to visit fruit-trees, and then return to their central roost at the end of the night. Anna-Lena observed that Eidolon behave differently during food-scarcity, where a large proportion of bats do not return to their central-roost. She then investigated and compared the strategies of "returning" and "scouting" bats across periods determining flight distances, energy expenditure, time budgets as well as foraging area characteristics, for which she combined GPS and acceleration data to discriminate different behavior classes. Surprisingly, she did not find an increase in flight distance during food-scarcity. Instead, centrally foraging bats maximized the time they spent for foraging, while the scouting bats spent more time searching for new food resources. By shifting their roost places, the bats maintain flight distances and energy expenditure while connecting a larger landscape extent over consecutive days, which might even increase the importance of Eidolon for seed dispersal and pollination. However, as their population has declined substantially throughout the last years, ecosystem services provided by the species are at risk. Therefore, Anna-Lena points out that increased conservation efforts are necessary across the region, where animals are hunted for their meat.

Towards the end of her internship, Anna-Lena presented her findings to peers at the institute, which has been a nice opportunity for herself to improve presentation skills, obtain feed-back and further discuss the findings.

Personal experiences - recommendations, advice
Overall, she collected very good experiences at this institute. She often enjoyed her time in the institute with beautiful nature, co-operative, helpful and welcoming people. She was also able to join some field-work activities like bat-box checks and bird-capturing for GPS-tagging. She often enjoyed her free time together with other members, she did BBQs, hiking, birding and swimming. Accommodation is comparatively expensive and difficult to find, but it is possible to stay in the institute's guest house, which costs around 500 EUR.

Text and picture: Anna-Lena Hendel

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