Jan 13, 2020 08:49 AM EST
Aside from ice, lake-bottom mud, or cave stalactites and stalagmites, bat poop, or guano, from Missouri caves can also be a point of study on the environment. It is being studied by researchers from Washington University, the Missouri Botanical Garden and Virginia Tech.
Fans of the second Ace Ventura film will recall the endless jokes about bat poop, but guano is actually an important source of fuel and fertilizer and now scientists have found that it can also provide important clues about climate change.
Ice and sediment core samples have provided scientists with a detailed history of climate conditions dating back thousands and even millions of years.
According to Christy Edwards, a conservation geneticist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, you will need to wear rubber boots and a mask when dealing with bat poop because it is stinky, dark, and not the most pleasant field environment.
A giant, brown, squishy heap of guano for Edwards and colleagues could amount to centuries or millennia of localized natural history records buried within generations of bat diets, layered on top of one another.
Researchers often rely on these core samples to study the effects of climate change and see how the Earth fared years ago during drastic changes in weather.
According to Rachel Reid, a research scientist in the geoscience department at Virginia Tech who began work on the project as a post-doctoral researcher at Washington University, insects are flying around eating plants and bats are flying around eating the insects. She added that the guano will be recording back down to that base of the food chain, and what plants are available.
The new study from the University of South Florida discovered that bat poop could also show how the climate in East-Central Europe has changed since 850 AD.
In a cave in northwestern Romania dating back over 1,000 years, isotopes in bat guano were studied. Climate changes can be determined by looking at nitrogen isotopes in a large pile of bat guano found in the cave.
Climate conditions can be derived from core samples by looking at changes in chemical composition throughout the different layers.
Thus, changes in the composition of the bat droppings can reflect how vegetation has transformed over time in the surrounding area.
Changes in the diet of bats over time can be used as a proxy for changes in the environment.
Bats return time and time to the same location, so bat guano can pile up considerably over time.
The researchers from South Florida found an almost annual record of winter precipitation for the area in Romania within the cave samples going back 1,200 years.
Cores of guano were gathered in the fall of 2018 from Mary Lawson Cave near Lebanon, Missouri. Samples that reached about two feet down through the pile were extracted. They can analyze sections of the cores for different carbon and nitrogen readings to identify changing trends over time.
This summer, modern guano samples from the cave’s population of gray bats were also gathered to study the old layers of bat poop.
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