‘A successful research isn’t all about being published, it should end as policy, technology or in any form that will benefit the common society’ – these are the most important guiding principles in doing research in different fields, especially in conservation. The Department of Biological Sciences, as a Center of Development in Biological education and research, is in line with this principle. One of a successful research project led by the department is the Bat Biodiversity and Conservation Program, which aims to elucidate the current species present in the region at the same time conserving their important habitats and sustainably supporting human communities.
The bat research and conservation initiative of the Department of Biological Sciences was conceived way back in 2009 led by Prof. John Aries G. Tabora and many other faculty researchers in the Department. During that time, the department’s strength towards biodiversity and ecological research were in its infancy. The first organized cave bat survey was conducted in Pisan caves in Kabacan (2009) by faculty researchers together with the energetic biology students of BioDept. Additional surveys were conducted in preceding years. In 2010, a fully-funded research was conducted which increased the bat biodiversity records in the area. In 2011, the bat conservation and research of the department expanded to other areas with diverse objectives and goals exploring the ecological aspect of bats from different ecosystems such as in protected areas and different land-use types. These developments have involved and trained young students in the process.
The year 2012 is a climax year for the bat research of the department. The first paper on bat diversity and ecology from Pisan caves was first published in a peer-reviewed journal. It is the same year when the ‘Bat Cave Vulnerability Index’ we developed was first introduced as an undergraduate thesis but unfortunately, the idea was rejected very soon. However, it was first informally introduced during the Southeast Asian Bat Conservation and Research (SEABCRU) meeting in Thailand, where Prof. John Aries G. Tabora become a core member of the Cave Bat Group of SEABCRU. Whilst during this time I am an undergraduate student and I was involved in the IUCN’s red list revision of its action plan for the Old-World fruit bats as a student intern. In 2013, I received a scholarship from SEABCRU which abled me to pursue bat surveys in Pisan caves. This project has resulted in new species records in the area and increased the species records of the locality. Bat studies from different habitats have continued after procuring numerous large research grants on biodiversity research (i.e. Biodiversity in Mining areas by the Department of Science and Technology).
Another paper on fruitbats in protected areas was published in 2014. It is also the same year where the ‘Bat Cave Vulnerability Index’ continued its development when I visited Chinese Academy of Sciences in China, and Prof. Dr. Hughes has become one of the main collaborators of the project (and later become my supervisor). In 2015, this development has gained the attention of many conservationists after I presented it in major international conferences abroad. In the late quarter of 2015, a comprehensive report of cave-dwelling bats of south-central Mindanao was successfully published in peer-reviewed journal, and a paper documenting threats and cave use of bat caves were later published in 2016.
The bat research of the department didn’t end up in papers and articles only. Early this year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Cave Management Committee has involved the Department of Biological Sciences as one of its main academic partners. Through the cave committee, the research published about caves and bats of Pisan were utilized as the basis of the Pisan Cave Conservation and Management Action Plan. This is a policy that encompasses the sustainable management of the cave at the same time conserving its natural resources without compromising the needs of the human communities. The action plan will also address the conservation issues in the area, these include the unregulated hunting, cave bat hunting, unsustainable guano extraction, and deforestation in the vicinity. Through this policy, sustainable and supervised ecotourism program benefiting the locals will be introduced in the area.
In between those successful research programs and developments the department have made in the field of biodiversity conservation, numerous capacity building and training were launched to train students to get involved in bat and other biodiversity researchers. At present, we are continuing to developing a new breed of students who will become our next generation ecologists and conservationists. The department through its Biodiversity Capacity Building Program –a science-based extension program, we believe that with the proper and appropriate training and experience, students and diverse clienteles can achieve competency and opportunity to change the world in out of the country.
Ecology and conservation are indeed a real-life challenge, it is not only a profession but it is becoming a lifestyle. By motivating and teaching our young generations and stakeholders at present is a key to a successful conservation of the remaining biological wealth of this biodiversity-rich nation. Today, our students guided by their respective mentors continue to explore the world of bats. Using different approaches and techniques to understand their life history and ecology that will become a foundation of future policies and recommendations. The road may be rough and challenges may be tough, but brighter future is waiting as we move forward positively. In the near future, we are envisioning our students to become leaders and innovators in their respective workplace and careers –disciplined and globally competitive.