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University of Maryland Statement Against Hate and Bias

November 5, 2017
Contacts: 

 Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

 
Statement Against Hate and Bias 
Joel Seligman, AVP for Communications and Marketing - November 5, 2017
 

UMD sincerely regrets the overwhelming misunderstanding resulting in the #UMDNotAHome social media conversation. The statements on social media connected to this hashtag do not reflect the positions of the university or our leaders' mutual commitment to diversity and inclusion on campus and across our nation.

To put it plainly, the UMD administration stands against hate and bias in all of its forms and wants every Terp to feel welcome, safe and at home at the University of Maryland. 

In recent months, there have been instances of intentional provocation by hateful, far-right groups spreading targeted messages that the administration finds despicable. These outside agitators want to divide our campus community into factions that are in conflict with one another from within UMD, rather than see our campus stand together in opposition to the broader forces of hate, white supremacy, anti-immigrant xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and anti-semitism. 

It is understandable that some members of our community are also disturbed by remarks by university officials, even when the comments are quoted entirely out of context and in a manner that misrepresents the meaning. UMD has seen an example of one of our longtime colleagues unfairly criticized for her efforts to provide legal advice to the University Senate Campus Affairs Committee literally at the same time she is working to advance the cause of inclusion.

The administration encourages all members of our community to work together—students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni—to increase respect, inclusiveness, and cohesiveness on our campus. A comprehensive list of efforts underway by UMD administration is available at umd.edu/umdreflects 

 

 

UMD Named a 2017 Best College by MONEY Magazine

July 12, 2017
Contacts: 

Jennifer Burroughs, 301-405-4621

COLLEGE PARK, Md.  The University of Maryland ranked No. 11 among public universities according to MONEY Magazine’s 2017 list of Best Colleges. UMD ranked No. 20 overall among U.S. institutions. 

To calculate rankings, MONEY assessed more than 700 colleges in the U.S. based on three equally-weighted categories, including educational quality, affordability and alumni success. MONEY measured 27 factors within these categories covering areas such as instructor quality, measuring the study-to-faculty ratio, affordability for low-income students and value-added earnings, which measures if the school is launching students to better paying jobs. 

Earlier this year, UMD was also ranked a Best Value College by ForbesPrinceton Review and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

UMD Capitol Hill Forum Addresses Health Disparities Research & Action for Equity

September 23, 2016
Contacts: 

Contacts: Elise Carbonaro, 301-405-6501

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland, in collaboration with Rep. John P. Sarbanes and the Big Ten Academic Alliance, recently convened more than 100 people for a Research on the Hill forum focused on strategies to achieve health equity at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. Moderated by Stephen B. Thomas, Ph.D., professor and director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity in the UMD School of Public Health, the panel discussion engaged experts from academia, federal health agencies and the private business sector in a candid conversation about how to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities among vulnerable populations.

“Our exploratory research holds the solutions to many of the most challenging problems of our day,” said UMD Vice President and Chief Research Officer Patrick G. O’Shea, Ph.D. “As a university, it is our mission to create and understand knowledge to develop better ways to house and heal and fuel and feed our people in advanced societies that are just, secure, and free. Achieving health equity touches on the ‘heal’ aspect of that mission.”

The topics ranged from the progress that has been made in access to medical care as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to challenges that still remain in improving quality of care and in making the medical care system incorporate public health and address the social determinants of health that prevent people from acting health promotion and disease prevention recommendations. 

“The state of Maryland has embraced the ACA and there is clear evidence that the new incentives are indeed moving hospital systems away from a fee-for-service business model to one that rewards quality care and positive health outcomes over the volume of procedures,” said Thomas. “While the transition is not perfect, our state is a national leader for what the future of health care will look like.”

Panel members shared examples of effective and innovative community-based health interventions and public-private partnerships that are making a difference through culturally-tailored health promotion and disease prevention services, and highlighted the emergence of social determinants of health such as poverty, discrimination and residential segregation as factors that must be overcome.

 “I’m convinced that if you address racial and ethnic disparities with respect to the delivery of health care and health care coverage in this country, you will build the best health care system we can possibly have because diversity is our country’s hallmark,” said Congressman Sarbanes, who, as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has been a tireless advocate for improving healthcare quality and addressing health disparities.
 
To achieve health equity, researchers, policymakers, and industry leaders must address broader issues beyond the traditional biomedical model and build trust between those who control health care delivery system and those who have lost hope in the system, said members of the panel. 

The panelists recommended that health equity be incorporated into all public policies, not just those related to health care, to reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities. 

Panel members included:

  • Margo Edmunds, Ph.D., Vice President, Evidence Generation and Translation at Academy Health;
  • J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., M.S.C.E., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and Director of the Office of Minority Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Julia Huggins, President of Cigna Mid-Atlantic;
  • Kolawole Okuyemi, M.D., MPH, Professor of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Director of the Program in Health Disparities Research and Inaugural Endowed Chair for Health Equity at the University of Minnesota; and
  • Eliseo Pérez-Stable, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health.

House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, who represents Maryland’s 5th Congressional District and is a distinguished UMD alumnus, also joined the event and emphasized that as an interconnected community, we should all care about health disparities.
 
“It is unacceptable that in the United States, where all are created equal in the words of our Declaration of Independence, that one’s access to healthcare may be higher or lower as a result of race, gender, or income,” said Congressman Hoyer. “Everybody being healthy is of concern to each and every one of us.”
 
He discussed how we must continue to defend the patient protections that Americans are benefiting from thanks to the ACA, such as the no-cost access to preventive services like mammograms and immunizations, as well as remind people of the dramatic increase in the number of people, particularly people of color, who now have health coverage as a result.

The event was held as part of the University of Maryland’s Research on the Hill series, which is aimed at raising awareness of research with great societal significance.

View the conversation at: https://youtu.be/HPedKr0jZLQ

UMD Study Finds Connecting Uninsured Patients to Primary Care Could Reduce ER Use

May 6, 2015
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418
Hillery Tsumba 301-628-3425

Montgomery County, Md. Initiative Could Improve Health, Reduce Costs

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – An intervention to connect low-income uninsured and Medicaid patients to a reliable source of primary health care shows promise for reducing avoidable use of hospital emergency departments in Maryland. A University of Maryland School of Public Health study evaluating the results of the intervention was published this week in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs

For twenty years, use of hospital emergency departments has been on the rise in the United States, particularly among low-income patients who face barriers to accessing health care outside of hospitals, including not having an identifiable primary health care provider. Almost half of emergency room visits are considered “avoidable.” The Emergency Department-Primary Care Connect Initiative of the Primary Care Coalition, which ran from 2009 through 2011, linked low-income uninsured and Medicaid patients to safety-net health clinics. 

“Our study found that uninsured patients with chronic health issues – such as those suffering from hypertension, diabetes, asthma, COPD, congestive heart failure, depression or anxiety – relied less on the emergency department after they were linked to a local health clinic for ongoing care,” says Dr. Karoline Mortensen, assistant professor of health services administration at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and senior researcher. “Connecting patients to primary care and expanding the availability of these safety-net clinics could reduce emergency department visits and provide better continuity of care for vulnerable populations.”  

Funded by a grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the initiative engaged all five of the hospitals operating in Montgomery County, Maryland at the time, and four safety-net clinics serving low-income patients. Using “patient navigators,” individuals trained to help patients find the care they need and can afford, these hospitals referred more than 10,000 low-income, uninsured and Medicaid patients who visited emergency departments to four local primary care clinics, with the goal of encouraging them to establish an ongoing relationship with the clinic and reduce their reliance on costly emergency department care. 

Two hospitals in Montgomery County who participated in the intervention continued the program after the initial grant period concluded because of the benefits they saw for patients and for reducing emergency department visits and associated costs. These hospitals are currently testing a new version of the intervention specifically deigned to link emergency department patients with behavioral health conditions to appropriate community-based services. 

While hospital administrators and health policy experts throughout the country are recognizing that access to primary care improves continuity of care for patients and reduces avoidable use of emergency departments, the implications of this project are particularly important for hospitals in Maryland, which are now operating under a unique all-payer model for hospital payments. Within this new payment structure, Maryland hospitals will have to meet ambitious spending, quality of care, and population health goals. Reducing avoidable use of emergency departments can help in reaching these goals.

The project provides promise not only for hospitals in Maryland but throughout the nation to improve health care experiences and outcomes for their patients. Shared learning systems were an integral component of the project so participants were learning from each other and sharing best practices throughout the project and that learning has now been documented and can be replicated in other communities.

“This was an incredibly rewarding project to work on,” says Barbara H. Eldridge, Manager of Quality Improvement at the Primary Care Coalition. “We created a learning system that permits us to sustain improved communication between patients and their providers, between hospital discharge planners and community based clinics, and across five hospitals operating in Montgomery County.” The initiative has proven successful in Montgomery County, Maryland and is being replicated in communities in other parts of the country. 

“Linking Uninsured Patients Treated In The Emergency Department To Primary Care Shows Some Promise In Maryland” was written by Theresa Y. Kim, Karoline Mortensen, and Barbara Eldridge and published in the journal Health Affairs

University Launches Dynamic, Interactive Information Website UMD Right Now

December 4, 2012
Contacts: 

Crystal Brown 301-405-4618 crystalb@umd.edu

College Park, Md. – Today, the University of Maryland launched a brand-new multimedia news and information portal, UMD Right Now, which provides members of the media and the public with real-time information on the university and its extended community.

UMD Right Now replaces Newsdesk, which previously served as the university’s news hub and central resource for members of the media. The new site is aimed at reaching broader audiences and allows visitors to keep up with the latest Maryland news and events, view photos and videos and connect with the university across all of its social media platforms.

“We designed UMD Right Now to be a comprehensive, vibrant site where visitors can find new and exciting things happening at Maryland,” said Linda Martin, executive director, Web and New Media Strategies. “Through social media, video, photos and news information, we hope to engage visitors and compel the community to explore all that Maryland has to offer.”

The new website, umdrightnow.umd.edu, contains up-to-date news releases and announcements, facts and figures about the university, a searchable database of faculty and staff experts, information highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship at UMD, additional resources for news media and other campus and athletics news.

“UMD RightNow is the place to go to find out all the things happening on and around campus on any given day,” said Crystal Brown, chief communications officer. “This website brings real-time news, events and information right to your fingertips.”

For more information and contact information for the Office of University Communications, please visit umdrightnow.umd.edu.

NICER View of Black Hole Gives New Insight into Source of Dramatic X-ray Flashes

January 11, 2019
Contacts: 

 

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267, Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A team of astronomers led by Erin Kara, the Neil Gehrels Prize Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Maryland’s Department of Astronomy, has provided the clearest picture to date of exactly how black holes generate massive X-ray outbursts.  And their findings may help settle a long-standingdebate about where around a black hole these outbursts originate.

Using NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) instrument aboard the International Space Station, the team detected an enormous explosion of X-ray light from a recently discovered small (star-mass) black hole as it consumed material from a companion star.

By measuring the differences, or lag times, between these X-rays and the “echoes” of these X-rays reflected off swirling gas near  the black hole, the researchers revealed information on how the black hole changed during the outburst. In a study published January 10th in the journal Nature, the team reports evidence that as the black hole consumed material from a nearby star, its coronathe halo of highly-energized particles that surrounds a black holeshrank significantly.

“We don’t really understand the source of these relativistic jets [X-ray burst] that are basically common in many accreting systems. However, these results indicate [the process] really is driven by the change of corona,” said Kara, the lead author of the paper, who is also a Hubble Fellow with a co-appointment at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Joint Space-Science Institute a UMD and NASA Goddard collaboration..

Black hole J1820, studied by the team is located about 10,000 light-years from Earth. Its existence was unknown until March 11, 2018, when the outburst was spotted by the Japanese Aerospace and Exploration Agency’s Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI), also aboard the space station. In the space of a few days, it went from a totally unknown black hole to one of the brightest sources in the X-ray sky.  NICER was used to quickly capture this dramatic transition and continues to follow the fading tail of the eruption.

“NICER is the only instrument out there capable of making these measurements,” said Kara. “So we were lucky in that we saw this incredibly bright object, but we also were prepared to study it with this new instrument [NICER] on the international Space Station.”

X-ray Insight into Black Hole Evolution

A black hole can siphon gas from a nearby companion star and into a ring of material called an accretion disk. Gravitational and magnetic forces heat the disk to millions of degrees Celsius, making it hot enough to produce X-rays at the inner parts of the disk, near the black hole.

Above the disk is the corona of a black hole, a region of subatomic particles heated to 1 billion degrees Celsius that glows in higher-energy X-rays. Many mysteries remain about the origin and evolution of a black hole’s corona. Some theories suggest the structure could represent an early form of the high-speed particle jets these types of systems often emit.

Astrophysicists want to better understand how the inner edge of the accretion disc (the spiraling ring of material being pulled in by a black hole)—and the corona above it—change in size and shape as a black hole consumes material from a companion star. If scientists can understand these changes in stellar-mass black holes over a period of weeks, they could gain new insights into how supermassive black holes evolve over millions of years and how they affect the galaxies where they reside.

In this case the research team used a method called X-ray reverberation mapping to study changes in this black hole during its X-ray outburst. This technique uses X-ray reflections in the environment of a black hole in much the same way radar is uses sound wave reflections to map undersea terrain. Some X-rays from the black holes corona travel straight toward us, while others light up the disk and reflect back at different energies and angles, plotting these reflections over time allows changes in the black hole to be mapped.

X-ray reverberation mapping of supermassive black holes has shown that the inner edge of the accretion disk is very close to a black hole’s event horizon— the point beyond which no matter or energy can escape. The corona is also compact, lying closer to the black hole rather than over much of the accretion disk.

Previous observations of X-ray echoes from stellar mass black holes suggested the inner edge of the accretion disk could be quite distant—up to hundreds of times the size of the event horizon. However, J1820 behaved more like its supermassive cousins.

As they examined NICER’s observations of J1820, Kara’s team saw a decrease in the delay, or lag time, between the initial flare of X-rays coming directly from the corona and the flare’s echo off of the disk. This indicated that the X-rays traveled over shorter and shorter distances before they were reflected.

To confirm that the decrease in lag time was due to a change in the corona and not the accretion disk, the researchers used a signal called the iron K line, which is created when X-rays from the corona collide with iron atoms in the disk, causing them to fluoresce.

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, time runs slower in strong gravitational fields and at high velocities. When the iron atoms closest to the black hole are bombarded by light from the core of the corona, the wavelengths of the X-rays they emit get stretched because time is moving slower for them than for the observer.

Kara’s team discovered that J1820’s stretched iron K line remained constant, which means the inner edge of the disk remained close to the black hole. This indicated that the disk was not the source of the X-rays.  These observations give scientists new insights into how material funnels into a black hole and how energy is released in this process.

The research team and other scientists say that these new findings point to the corona and not the disk as the driver of the evolution of X-ray outbursts in stellar-size black holes, but other studies in similarly sized black holes are needed.

“These observations also offer a new framework through which to study the evolution of accretion in supermassive black holes,” Kara said.

This work was supported by NASA (Award Nos. HST-HF2-51360.001-A, NAS5-26555, and PF5-160144), the National Science Foundation (Award No. AST-1351222), and the Royal Society. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

 

UMD Gets First-Ever ‘New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award’

January 9, 2019
Contacts: 

Samantha Watters 301-405-2434

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research for the first time has awarded a UMD researcher the foundation’s “New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award”, designed to invest in the next generation of scientists committed to changing the way food is grown, processed, and distributed.

University of Maryland Assistant Professor Yiping Qi, department of plant science and landscape architecture, was one of only nine U.S. early-career researchers who in late December were given the foundation’s 2018 award. With support from the foundation and matching funds from Syngenta, Qi’s new award totals $560,000.

According to the foundation, this funding will support his research “to develop CRISPR-Cas12a based plant genome editing systems with broadened targeting range and improved editing activity and specificity. If successful, these new gene editing tools will promote accelerated plant breeding for generating crops of high productivity and stress resistance under climate change and global warming.”

Qi recently also got a $500,000 grant from the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grant Awards Program (BRAG) from USDA-NIFA for a combined funding of more than $1 million for his work to perfect CRISPR technology and its application for creating better food crops.

“CRISPR technologies are revolutionizing biology, agriculture, and medicine. CRISPR can be thought of as molecular scissors that cuts DNA so that the piece related to a certain trait can be removed, replaced, or edited,” said Qi.

Qi and others say CRISPR, as a new precision breeding technology, will enable scientists and breeders alike to do the same things once done with traditional cross-breeding programs, but in a much shorter amount of time. The goal is to help ensure global food and nutritional security and feed the world by accounting for new issues like disease resistance, pests, heat, drought, and other major concerns of a changing climate and growing population.

Earlier this year, Qi published papers in Genome Biology and Plant Biotechnology Journal looking at the specificity of CRISPR Cas9 and Cas12a in rice and maize, respectively. Qi and his team were the first to assess CRISPR Cas12a for off-targeting by whole genome sequencing in any higher organism.

“FDA and USDA regulate safety of crops and food from many different aspects as they should, so having data to show that we can make very precise edits with basically no error is very important for the future of gene editing, and to have science-based data to make policies,” explained Qi. “In our previous work, we are finding that these tools are incredibly specific in rice and maize, both major crops for feeding people around the world. It is very encouraging.”

With the $500,000 in funding from USDA-NIFA, Qi will be similarly using the concept of whole genome sequencing to look at how efficient and specific base editing is. Base editors are CRISPR-derived technologies for making DNA changes down to a single base pair. A base pair is one A, T, C, or G and its corresponding counterpart in a sequence of DNA. Single base pair editing is highly specialized and specific, but can still result in significant changes in traits that are expressed.

“Breeding is all about harvesting useful mutations. We need mutation - it is a part of evolution. We are ensuring the safety and efficacy of these gene editings systems while also fostering new useful mutation in a controlled and very precise way, even targeting single base pairs,” said Qi. “I am excited to use these new technologies as an opportunity to help people, advance science, and as a chance to educate people with a transparent understanding of gene editing.”

 

Federal Government Shutdown FAQs

December 31, 2018

The University of Maryland is committed to keeping its community updated on the partial federal government shutdown and its potential impacts on our community. Below are some frequently asked questions. The university will update this information as federal agencies continue to release more guidance to the public.

Click here and here for guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget. 

Specific agency contingency plans can also be found here.


Updated 12/30/2018

A government shut down, even a partial one, can have significant negative impact on advanced research projects at UMD and all US research universities.The negative consequences are greater, the longer the shutdown lasts. 

Congress has already approved funding for several federal agencies that support the university, including the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Education (DoED), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Department of Energy (DOE).  These agencies will continue to operate as usual.

Congress has yet to pass funding for several agencies that are important to the university, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Commerce (including NIST, NOAA, and EDA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the State Department (including USAID), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).  The FAQ below applies to individuals on campus that are working with these agencies in some capacity.

 

1. What is the impact on federally-funded research projects?  

No new grants or contracts are usually awarded during a shutdown. Researchers can likely submit proposals, but they will not be reviewed until the government is operational again. A shutdown can also have negative impact on our research partnerships and collaborations with federal agencies.

Work may continue on most federally-funded projects that have already been awarded. Routine administrative and support services provided by federal agencies to grant and contract recipients likely will not be available. Awarded projects may be disrupted during a shutdown if they are housed in a federal facility, if the project includes federal personnel, and/or if an award includes restrictive terms and conditions that require administrative action to approve a drawdown of funds.

Federal agency staff likely will not be available to approve no-cost extension requests, grant transfers, re-budgeting approvals or other actions requiring agency approval.

 

2. What is the impact on federal financial aid?

The partial shutdown will not impact federal financial aid programs supported by the Department of Education as Congress approved FY2019 appropriations for these programs.

 

3. What is the impact on veterans’ education benefits and services?

The partial shutdown will not impact veterans' education benefits and services as Congress approved FY2019 appropriations for these programs.

 

4. What is the impact on immigration services?

Because these activities are funded by fees, most of these services are expected to remain operational during a shutdown. For additional information, view the DHS shutdown plan linked above.

 

5. What is the impact on international students at UMD? 

If you have questions or concerns about how the shutdown affects you as an international student, please contact UMD’s International Student & Scholar Services office at 301-314-7740. 

 

6. What is the impact on students who are interning with federal agencies? How will this affect internship credits earned? 

Students who have an internship with a federal agency should contact their supervisor to determine how their work is affected by the shutdown. Students should also contact their internship coordinator at UMD to determine any effects on credits being earned. 

 

7. Will the Metro still run? 

The metro’s service and schedule are not affected by the shutdown. 

 

UMD Research Reveals Massive Cropland Expansion in Brazil

December 18, 2018
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

soybean crops in brazilCOLLEGE PARK, Md.— Brazil, one of the world’s leading producers of commodities like soybean, corn, sugar cane and cotton, now has almost twice as much land dedicated to growing crops than it did in 2000, new research from the University of Maryland Department of Geographical Sciences finds. 

Using detailed satellite data, researchers analyzed cropland area in Brazil between 2000 and 2014. They discovered about 80 percent of the cropland expansion in the country was due to conversion of pasture and 20 percent from conversion of natural vegetation. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) December 17.  

“Brazil was already one of the world’s top producers of commodity crops in the year 2000, when our study began, so it was striking to see the extent of cropland expansion that has occurred since then,” said Viviana Zalles, a doctoral candidate in geographical sciences and lead author on the study in PNAS. “Brazil is a country with the potential to cultivate an area much larger than the United States’ Corn Belt and, therefore, our findings have implications for global supply chains.”

The research project was conducted by the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) team in the Department of Geographical Sciences at UMD. The GLAD lab is a world leader in mapping large-scale land cover change and monitoring these changes using remote sensing data. The research team hopes their latest findings in Brazil will inform further studies on the causes and effects of cropland expansion, in order to help policymakers and stakeholders implement sustainable land management practices.

“Whenever you have such a significant shift in land use over a relatively short period of time, there will inevitably be environmental and socioeconomic challenges, such as biodiversity loss, increased greenhouse gas emissions, impacts to human health and national economies,” said Professor Matthew Hansen, co-director of GLAD. “By monitoring these types of dynamic changes, we hope to help mitigate or even prevent the negative repercussions.” 

The GLAD team is now working on mapping cropland in all of South America dating back to 1985 to provide a broader understanding of land use changes on the continent. 

The study published in PNAS was funded by the Gordon and Betty More Foundation (Grant #5131) and the NASA Land Cover and Land Use Change Program (Grants NNX15AK65G and NNX12AC78G).

 

 

Unpredictable Food Sources Drive Some Bats to Hunt Cooperatively

December 17, 2018
Contacts: 

 Irene Ying 301-405-5204

 

Three Mexican fish-eating bats hunting over the ocean at night. Photo: Glenn Thompson (Click image to download hi-res version.)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Humans aren’t the only species that have dinner parties. Scientists have observed many animals, including bats, eating in groups. However, little was known about whether bats actively help each other find food, a process known as social foraging.

With the help of novel miniature sensors, an international group of biologists that included University of Maryland Biology Professor Gerald Wilkinson found that bat species foraged socially if their food sources were in unpredictable locations, such as insect swarms or fish schools. In contrast, bats with food sources at fixed locations foraged on their own and did not communicate with one another while foraging or eating. The results of the study were published recently in the journal Current Biology.

“We were able to show that bats who can’t predict where their food will be are the ones that cooperate with each other to forage,” Wilkinson said. “And I don’t think they are unique—I think that if more studies are done, we will find that other bat species do similar things.”

The researchers selected five bat species from around the world for the study—two species with unpredictable food sources and three with predictable food sources. They fit each bat with a small, lightweight sensor that operated for up to three nights. Because the sensor only weighed approximately 4 grams, it did not hinder the bat’s movements. The sensor recorded GPS data to log each bat’s flight path and audio in ultrasonic frequencies to document bat calls. The researchers recaptured each bat to download the data. In all, the researchers tracked 94 bats in this study.

Edward Hurme, a UMD biological sciences graduate student in Wilkinson’s laboratory and a co-lead author of the paper, tracked one of the bat species—the Mexican fish-eating bat, which lives on a remote Mexican island.

A Mexican fish-eating bat with a sensor strapped to its back. Photo: Stephan Greif (Click image to download hi-res version.)

“We took a fishing boat to an uninhabited island where these bats live and camped there for a month at a time,” Hurme said. “Field work can be challenging. One time, a hurricane came and all we could do was hide in the tent. Fortunately, we survived and so did our data.”

After collecting data on all five bat species, the researchers charted the bats’ flight paths and analyzed the audio recordings. They listened for the distinctive, species-specific calls the bats make during normal flight and when trying to capture prey. The research team used this information to map where and when the bats found and ate food and whether other bats were nearby.

The results showed that the three species of bats that eat predictable food sources, such as fruits, foraged on their own. When they found food, they also ate alone. This makes sense, according to Wilkinson, because they didn’t need any help finding food. In fact, having other bats around could create harmful competition for food.

In contrast, the two species of bats with unpredictable food sources often flew together with other members of their species. Moreover, when a tracked bat found prey, other individuals nearby also began to forage. The findings suggest that these bats forage cooperatively and socially within their own species.

The researchers also found that socially foraging bats may eavesdrop on one another by staying close enough to hear each other’s feeding calls.

“We tested this hypothesis by playing recordings of white noise, normal calls and feeding calls for these bats to hear,” Hurme said. “We found that bats who heard normal calls became more attracted to the speakers than those who heard white noise. And when we played feeding calls, bats dive-dombed the speakers.”

The next step for this research is to investigate what strategies bats use in social foraging. In particular, Hurme hopes to discover whether these bats pay attention to the identity of their fellow foragers.

“We would like to know if socially foraging bats will follow any member of their own species or if they prefer specific individuals who are the most successful at finding food,” Hurme said. “There is some evidence that bats can recognize each other by voice, so we are working on ways to identify individuals by their calls.”

 

Three Mexican fish-eating bat flight paths (black, red and green) while foraging. White circles indicate calls from bats of the same species during flight; orange circles indicate feeding calls. The data shows that multiple Mexican fish-eating bats frequently flew and fed together. Video: Edward Hurme.

 

The above video shows three Mexican fish-eating bat flight paths (black, red and green) while foraging. White circles indicate calls from bats of the same species during flight; orange circles indicate feeding calls. The data shows that multiple Mexican fish-eating bats frequently flew and fed together. Video: Edward Hurme

 


Photos: 

Three Mexican fish-eating bats hunting over the ocean at night. Photo: Glenn Thompson (Click image to download hi-res version.)

A Mexican fish-eating bat with a sensor straped to its back.  Photo by Stephan Greif. (Click for high-res image) 

 

 

Pages

January 15
New research upends long-standing assumption about feeding habits of varroa mites, a primary threat to honey bees... Read
January 11
Research led by UMD astrophysicist gives detailed picture of X-ray outburst from small black hole actively pulling in... Read
January 9
With “New Innovator” award, UMD researcher’s recent crop editing grants total more than $1 million  Read