Erasmus Exchange Student

As a biomimetics student at City University of Applied Sciences in Bremen, I am interested in the interaction between engineering and biology. The mechanical ecology lab is the perfect place to do my semester abroad because of its really interdisciplinary projects. During my 4-months visit, I am investigating the communication between a carnivorous pitcher plant, Nepenthes hemsleyana, and a tiny woolly bat, Kerivoula hardtwickii. The bat uses the pitcher trap as a roosting place during the day. In return for offering a space to stay, the plant benefits from the nutrient-rich excrements of the bats.

As part of this fascinating project, I look forward to getting some hands-on lab experience and learning new scientific methods. In collaboration with Marc Holderied’s BASE Lab, I use acoustic tomography scans to visualize how an echo-locating bat ‘sees’ the pitcher, and investigate how detailed this acoustic image of the roost is. Can approaching bats ‘see’ whether a roost is vacant or already occupied? Can it gauge the fluid level inside the trap? Are pitchers adapted to advertise their suitability as a bat roost acoustically? I use computerized tomography scans to obtain detailed 3D images of pitchers, that I can then use to 3D-print artificial pitcher replicas for use in experiments. These will allow me to disentangle the effects of pitcher shape from those of texture and surface properties. Replicas are also really useful for testing the effects of manipulating individual pitcher components, e,g. the orientation of the pitcher lid, which may function as an acoustic reflector.