Every spring, thousands of females travel from the center of Mexico to Arizona in search of caves to breed. Flowers of cacti that open at night guide them to their destination. The sweet nectar gives bats the strength to endure a 1600km journey and in return they carry their pollen. Evolution has choreographed this dance for millions of years and shaped the architecture of their genes.
Our goal is to understand the ecology and evolution of migration in the Tequila bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae). By using genomics, we aim at unveiling the genetic pathways and networks responsible for migration. Understanding which genes are controlling this behaviour and which environmental variables may affect it will allow us to make better decisions for their conservation.
WhERE ARE WE WORKING
Tequila bats can be found from Southern Arizona, US to Southwestern Mexico. Their populations divide seasonally into resident and migratory individuals. We have been following the bats along their route and so far we have sampled three key sites: The Pinacate desert and Gran Desierto de Altar in Sonora, The Juxtlahuaca Grote in Guerrero, and Los Laguitos Cave in Chiapas. These sites harvest some of the largest populations of tequila bats and are also inhabited by other bats that feed on insects and fruit.
We are using genomic data to discern the framework behind migration. Identifying genome-wide associations of gene expression is useful to understand the genetic pathways and networks regulating migration. To do this, we have taken a non invasive approach and we are using blood to monitor changes in the bats' genes. These variations might be related to the physiological preparation an animal needs to undergo before long distance travel. For example, there might be genes that regulate fat storage and directionality, and these might be On or Off during different times of the year.
WHAT HAVE WE ACHIEVED SO FAR
- Thanks to donations made by people interested in this project we successfully raised $7000
- We visited three caves and collected samples for pilot studies
- We sequenced the first blood samples and used this data to reconstruct the transcriptome of the Tequila bat.
- We are planning our next field trip to The Pinacate desert in May 2016