Summer 2009

Working Life

For Dave Redell, night time is the right time to catch up with Wisconsin's bat population.

Dave Redell figures he’d make a lousy ornithologist.

“They are always up early,” he points out. “If I were studying birds, I’d conclude there were very few out there because they do all of their singing in the morning.“

Fortunately, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources researcher studies a species more in line with his schedule. As the state’s leading authority on bats, Redell hangs out well past nightfall to observe and identify bats when they are most active. Several times each month, he sets up near the mouth of a Wisconsin cave to capture and measure bats as they emerge, often not finishing his work until 3 a.m.

“I was nocturnal before I worked with bats,” Redell says. “If I let my internal clock determine things, I tend to stay up later at night and sleep later in the morning. Working with bats just pushed me about five hours later into the night.”

Like many of his fellow DNR wildlife specialists, Redell’s interest in wildlife was sparked by his undergraduate studies in CALS. After graduation, professor Scott Craven helped him find work with a private wildlife group studying the migration of bats living in an abandoned mine in Dodge County. That study became his master’s project when he returned to CALS for graduate school and helped him get his current job. The DNR needed a bat expert to help address concerns about bats flying into the giant wind turbines being installed by the energy industry. Redell has experimented with ultrasound signals to deter the bats and encouraging wind farms to alter their schedules during peak migration times.

Another threat that concerns Redell is a fungus that has caused the death of more than a million bats in the northeastern United States since 2007. Although the fungus has not yet been identified in Wisconsin, it could arrive any day. “Since bats collect from thousands of square miles at a single hibernation site, one event could wipe out a large colony,” Redell says. “Common bat species could become endangered, and those endangered now could become extinct.”

Given that a bat can eat up to its own weight in insects every night, such a die-off could result in a glut of mosquitoes and crop and forest pests. Can we keep bats healthy and avoid the damage? That’s the question that keeps Redell up at night.

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