UWinnipeg batgirl earns award in Texas

Emma Kunkel, Dr. Craig Willis,  Virginie Lemieux-Labonté, photo supplied

Emma Kunkel, Dr. Craig Willis, Virginie Lemieux-Labonté, photo supplied

Around 400 bat biologists from around the world gathered at the North American Symposium for Bat Research (NASBR) in San Antonio TX including one of our own, Emma Kunkel. Kunkel is an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in biopsychology. She is currently doing directed studies on bats with UWinnipeg’s Dr. Craig Willis, biologist and resident Batman.

Kunkel earned the Basically Bats Wildlife Conservation Society Award for outstanding poster presentation beating out many Masters and PhD students on The relationship between core, fur and skin temperature in little brown bats.

“My research focuses on torpor expression in little brown bats,” explains Kunkel. “We found that fur temperature (a minimally invasive measure) can be used to predict body temperature, which is critical information for studying the pathology of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS).”

brown bats with white-nose syndrome, photo courtesy of science daily

brown bats with white-nose syndrome, photo courtesy of Science Daily

WNS was discovered in 2006 and has spread rapidly throughout eastern North America and now occurs from New Brunswick and PEI in eastern Canada to just west of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Little brown bats, formerly one of the most common North American species, and northern long-eared bats are among the hardest hit and several studies predict local extinction or extirpation for these species at a rapid rate. This is a crisis for bat conservation but also has wider consequences for ecosystems, forestry, and agriculture, given the role of bats as the primary consumers of night-flying insects.

Kunkel and Willis were joined by Université de Montréal PhD student Virginie Lemieux-Labonté who is also doing research with Willis. Lemieux-Labonté won the Karl F. Koopman Award for her outstanding platform paper Effect of white-nose syndrome on the skin microbiome of bats in Canada.

“Competition for these awards is fierce but both Emma and Virginie presented world-class research that really shone at NASBR,” shares Willis. “Their work is also important for tackling white-nose syndrome in bats so they are making a valuable contribution to wildlife conservation.”

“I’m honored to work with Dr. Willis and his team on this research,” says Lemieux-Labontée. “This award officially recognizes the beginning of a great collaboration between Université de Montréal (Québec) and UWinnipeg.”

Kunkel recognizes the research advantage at UWinnipeg, “The opportunities I’ve had to pursue research at UWinnipeg have been phenomenal” says Kunkel. “It is not often that undergraduate students are able to undertake individual programs of research and publish their results, but UWinnipeg and Dr Willis have allowed me to do just that. The research exposure and mentorship I’ve received here have helped me develop my skills as a young scientist and I am now considering a career in wildlife biology.”

Naniece Ibrahim, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg
P: 204.988.7130, E: n.ibrahim@uwinnipeg.ca

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