Taiwan vs. Etosha


I grew up in Taiwan, which is a small island in southeastern Asia. In terms of the size, Taiwan is only two-thirds of New York State, and half of it is covered by mountains. Thus, Taiwan overall is so steep that it is almost impossible to find somewhere flat; therefore, I’ve been eager to see flatness. On the other hand, even though the biodiversity is generally higher, there are not many large mammals in Taiwan due to the limited area. Mammals, moreover, tend to hide in woods when humans are approaching. Seeing a mammal during fieldwork is a huge surprise for researchers in Taiwan.

My two thirsts were fulfilled simultaneously by Etosha National Park, the size of which is two-thirds of Taiwan. There are remarkably flat plains with several seeable mammals on them. I sometimes went to the waterhole by Okaukuejo camp. It was amazing to see herbivores coming to the waterhole endlessly. Mammals supported by that one waterhole—I guess—are more than mammals supported by a river in Taiwan!

One of my jobs on this visit to Etosha was placing cameras to monitor animal reactions toward carcasses/carcass sites, in order to evaluate the possible risk being infected by anthrax. I personally summarized a few important points for you to keep in mind when putting up cameras at new carcass sites. First of all, before getting out of a car, it is required to check whether predators are around. This is in fact not only for fresh carcasses but also for every time getting out of a car in the field. Second, if there are predators around, you should estimate how far they are from the carcass site and how long it would take for them to reach the site. Once safety is confirmed, you can get out of the car and place the cameras. However, it is important to let at least one person keep watch on any predators and, moreover, to leave doors open in case quickly retreating is needed. Last but not least, when getting close to fresh carcasses, you should hold your breath if you are not familiar with working with carcasses. Otherwise, it will be like enjoying a famous food in Taiwan—stinky tofu.

After putting up a few cameras, I chatted with Wendy’s husband, Yeti.

Me: “If lions were attacking us during our fieldwork, can I say I saw lions hunting?”

Yeti: “But before that, first, you need to survive.”

Northern long-eared bats


For folks in the bat community, field work generally means strenuous days and long nights, sometimes with little success in the post white-nose syndrome world. But when you catch the species you are looking for, especially one that has become extremely rare, it makes all the struggles worth it!

After working for the NYSDEC for the past few years I have become quite fond of these unique flying mammals, and after witnessing the results of the devastating fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS), I decided to pursue my own questions to contribute to these critical conservation efforts. Despite whether you love em or hate em, they are an ecologically important order of mammals that deserves much attention these days!

My study subject is the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis, or MYSE for short), a small brown bat of the eastern US. Despite the name, the ears are not quite as long as you might picture, however the tragus is the defining feature that sets this species apart from its Myotis counterparts by a much longer length! Unfortunately, MYSE have experienced a 99% population decline here in New York since the onset of WNS in 2006, and similar declines throughout the rest of their range. Over the past few years we have made some interesting observations here in NY, particularly that this species seems to be surviving down on Long Island, and this idea has been supported by other coastal regions of the country.

This spring involved lots of organization in order to narrow down my objectives and coordinate with other organizations so we can investigate the mechanisms promoting survival of coastal populations. One of the first things I wanted to look at was bats emerging from hibernation in the spring. At this time of the year, any surviving individuals should be heavily infected with the fungus, so determining whether our Long Island bats are even being exposed to the fungus was the first step. The problem is, if you have ever visited Long Island, you might realize that there are no natural hibernacula present! Bats typically use natural caves and abandoned mines, which there are none of, so this presents added difficulty in that we don’t know whether they are crossing back over to the mainland, or finding unique structures to spend the winter on the island.

Along with the DEC bat team, I headed down to do some mist netting in mid-April, selecting a location based on positive acoustic detections from the previous summer and guessing as to what the emergence period might be due to the weather and known ecology of the species at typical hibernaculum. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when we caught 5 MYSE over two nights! That may not sound like a lot, but you could spend all summer netting in upstate NY and never catch a single one.

In order to test for exposure to the fungus causing the disease, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd for short), we took swab samples of the wing and muzzle of each bat, which are then tested with qPCR for fungal presence and fungal load. Another quick tool for determining infection is to look for wing damage. Visually inspecting the wings can show some possible clues, but looking at the wings under UV light will actually show you lesions caused by the infection! In the picture above, you can see orange fluorescent dots on the wing, indicating this individual was exposed to the fungus. By taking photos of each wing, the amount of fluorescence can be quantified and used to assess severity of infection. After processing, each bat is released with a shiny forearm band in case of recapture at a later time. We were feeling pretty good after our successful trip south and looking forward to potentially returning to this site in the fall.

Field notes from the Haem Team


Summers are easily the most professionally anticipated part of the year for an ecologist, and especially for a bird biologist who studies migratory birds. This summer has been a healthy mix of a month of frolicking through some beautiful forested landscape, nets and needles in tow, and alternating between lab-work and preparing to propose my Ph.D. dissertation research later this year.


I study the diversity of malarial parasites in a group of birds that breed in North America, the Catharus thrushes, across different ecological gradients. Yes, you read that right, while the four malarial parasites that infect humans are restricted to more tropical climes, the thousands of malarial parasites that infect birds, other mammals and reptiles are found with a more global distribution.


For the month of June, my research team of Eric (undergrad assistant), Alyssa (recent Ph.D. grad craving the last bit of bird field work before heading into the biology of fish) and I headed to the SUNY Newcomb campus in the Adirondack Mountains ready to catch lots of thrushes. We had certain minimum quotas for the three species that live in that field site, and despite the onslaught of mosquitos and blackflies, I’m proud to say we got higher than those quotas for all three species.


We catch birds using a technique called targeted mist-netting, where we put up a net along with a Bluetooth speaker, and play the bird’s call. The bird, suspecting a threat to its territory, will dash into the net. We very quickly remove it, and follow USGS protocols of measuring its dimensions and putting a metal band on its leg. Before releasing it, we take a very small blood sample (smaller than a raindrop), and preserve it in a buffer solution before adding it the New York State Museum’s archives.


Once back at the museum, we use genetic techniques to isolate a mitochondrial gene of any malaria parasite that may be floating around in the blood of the birds we caught. Once isolated, we can figure out what malaria species that specific genetic combination of mitochondrial gene it belongs to. And voila, we can make a catalog of malarial parasite diversity in my group of birds.

Hello, world

This is the first post for our new lab blog. Our goal is to share our different perspectives and experiences as we conduct research.

I came to Etosha National Park, Namibia, for a research visit in the summer of 2017. The plan was to carry on some long-term research sampling, finish writing a grant proposal that spilled over into my research time (argh), get two Ph.D. students up and running in the field and lab, and as ever, collect that enticing, nay, transformative, “preliminary data” to snag me some grant funding. I’ll say we succeeded with the first two, and as for the latter two, that remains to be seen!

Here is my Ph.D. student, Yen-Hua, in my lab at UAlbany, marveling at the mountains of supplies for our trip to Namibia. I think it took him two days to open all the plastic cases holding these motion sensing cameras.

Yen-Hua with cameras

Yen-Hua unpacking cameras

Were we going to fit all of that in our luggage? I hoped so. Did we? Nope. I knew better, but still made the mistake of trusting a bunch of our cameras to international express shipping, where they’ve been wasting away for the last month, stuck in customs in Namibia. I just got an invoice to release them this week, requesting that I pay what amounts to 72% of the value of the shipment. I sent back a fiery email suggesting they recalculate their charges or they could turn around and ship them back to the US. Somehow I’m still waiting for a response…

Between proposal writing and the work-life “balance” (ha ha), my research productivity took a real hit this trip. My husband and I were blinded by our love of Namibia and some romantic notion of the idyllic time we’d spend here with our two kids, so the whole family came for five weeks. We anticipated watching wildlife with our clean, well-behaved, inquisitive children, faces aglow in the African sunset, begging for more facts about the animals we observed together. Immediately after we bought the tickets we had our doubts, but stubbornly stuck to the plan. Here I am at JFK with my girls, at the start of a long and sleepless journey, loaded with research supplies, kid supplies, and a few things for myself.

Luggage for family and work

There were some lovely moments, but also many times we both thought this trip was a huge mistake. I’ll just say I don’t think we’ll try to bring the whole family again for at least another 3-5 years. Here I am sitting on a dirt road poaching my neighbor’s wifi to upload the final files for my grant proposal and trying, unsuccessfully, to keep my daughter from chewing rocks. Because, of course, the one day you really need the internet in office is the day it’s not functioning.

Working on a dirt road for Internet access to submit a grant proposal