A short history of Romanian bat research

author: Levente Barti

The history of chiropterological research between the 18th century and the Second World War is featured extensively in the scientific paper of Barti (2005), so in this chapter we will summarize only a brief part of the “golden” period. The amount of published research after the year 2000 is more modest, because the gathering of events and scientific results about the birth and the contribution of various organizations, is still under construction.

The revival of the 19th-century zoology also had ramifications in our country due to the fact that the romantic reports of Europe’s collectors have aroused international interest towards the Transylvanian and Banat zoogeography. For example, the description of the bent-winged bat (Miniopterus schreibersii) by German Heinrich Kuhl in 1817 (based on the collection of Austrian Karl Schreibers from 1809, from Gaura cu Muscă) may be considered a sensational scientific breakthrough. Following this discovery, popular taxonomists at that time (Blasius, Dobson, Barrett-Hamilton, Matschie, Andersen) regularly collect bats or request materials from these regions.

The great enthusiasm from Europe is also picked up by prominent researchers from Hungary, the intention of bat research in an organized manner already taking shape with the occurrence of the first faunal researches at a national level. During the 1840s, among others, Salamon Petényi tries to complete a list of species, and a small bat identification key. A prominent representative of the Saxon scientific movement in Transylvania, Albert Bielz also draws up a list of species in the 1850s and later, in the 1880, attempts to describe a new large sized mouse-eared bat species, Myotis murina L. var. spelaea. In this undertaking he is aided by Jenő Daday who provides him with the holotypes of the subspecies, and who in turn, describes new species and subspecies (Vesperus siculus, Rhinolophus unihastatus Geoffr. var. homorodalmásiensis, Rhinolophus bihastatus Geoffr. var. kisnyiresiensis, Rhinolophus hipposideros Bechst. var. troglophilus, Vesperus serotinus Daub. var. transylvanus), but which are later recalled by Méhely. Also quite important to mention is that the faunistic researches of Daday are supported by a renowned local scientific organization, the Transylvanian Museum Association.

The first modern and detailed monograph regarding the fauna of bats in Hungary is published in 1900 and is written by Lajos Méhely (Professor also in Brașov, renowned zoologist and curator of the zoological collections of the Hungarian National Museum). The monograph will be an international work of reference in the coming decades. Méhely summarizes in his paper all the current information about the bat species of Transylvania and Banat. Meanwhile, Romania turns up in the midst of contemporary scientific interest because of the collector and taxidermist Dombrowski is sending mammalian materials in Berlin, to zoologist Paul Matschie. Some horseshoe bats are found to be quite different from other known ones. Thus a new species is described: Rhinolophus méhelyi (reports of the confusion regarding the description of this new species, and the significant complications caused by it can be read in Barti 2005).

The ink has not yet dried on the description of the new species of horseshoe bat, when a small bat from the Eptesicus genus was found in Buștenari, Prahova county. The only specimen would become known as the Eptesicus sodalis Barrett-Hamilton and would give headaches to scientists for 80 years, until a Polish researcher (Ruprecht 1990) will provide sufficient evidence for the existence of small stature specimens of the Eptesicus serotinus species.

The beginning of the 20th century is also important in the evolution of micromammal paleontology, a field based on the systematic research of cave sediments. Tivadar Kormos, a researcher from the Geological Institute of Hungary is the first to study the Upper and Lower Pliocene sediments in which he describes new species of rodents, bats and insectivores. Some of the bat species originate from Dealu Şumuleu next to Băile Felix (Eptesicus praeglacialis, Plecotus crassidens).

World War I interrupts the research in the region. After this period, Hungarian researchers only sporadically address topics related to bats in Transylvania. The Institute of Speleology is inaugurated in Cluj. Its’ founder, Emil Racoviţă, brings from France a rich biospeleological collection that will be further enriched during the interwar decades. Emil Racoviţă also collects bats, but especially because of his interest in their parasites. Most of the bat preparations are sent for identification in London, at researchers Hinton and Andersen, but the study based on these is not published. The first scientist from Romania who publishes about bats is Raul Călinescu. He summarizes distribution data of indigenous species of mammals in the early 30s.

For 50 years after World War II, bat research is directed broadly towards fauna. Reorganized and centralized in Bucharest, the Institute of Speleology commits to the study of bats. Zoologist Margareta Dumitrescu, in collaboration with geologist Traian Orghidan and Jana Tanasache publish in several articles their results, and after 10 years of research, they publish in 1963 the first substantial database on the distribution of bats in Romania, containing in 80% their own observations. The strength of the paper is that it shows data from karst areas unknown until that time in terms of chiropterology, thereby providing valuable information. Dumitrescu keeps in touch with several parasitology researchers (Beron, Kolebinova, Burghele-Bălăcescu-Decu, Chiriac, Dancău, Căpuşe, Georgescu, Prunescu, Rădulescu, Lustun). We can discover other significant contributions (collections, identification of species) in the work of researchers in other areas (e.g Alexandrina Negrea and Ştefan Negrea, Sencu, Botoşăneanu). Unfortunately, since the second half of the ’60s until his death in 1986, Dumitrescu does not publish any other bat studies and only a fraction of the vast collection of preparatory materials survives (due to neglect and improper treatment).

In the ’60s and ’70s local (but largely isolated) bat research centers are established, mainly at some universities and research institutions, and the study of bats is carried out by researchers in other fields, in a self-taught manner. At an academic level, there is insignificant contact between researchers, fact suggested by the very small number of joint publications. Among  these “research shops” we can mention the University of Bucharest, where researchers Profira Barbu and Alexandrina Popescu stand out. Initially interested in fauna research, Profira Barbu ultimately focuses on morphology and anatomy research.

At the University of Iaşi, in the early ’60s, Niculai Valenciuc begins to deal in depth with colonies of bats from caves and buildings, establishing the direction of ecological research of bats in the country. From the Romanian researchers’ point of view, he was probably the most productive, publishing nearly 40 articles. He is the author of the first edition of the chiroptera fascicle from the Romanian Fauna. The researcher V. Ionescu worked at the research center from Pângarați from where he published some interesting local observations.

In the South-Western part of the country, also in the ’60s and ’70s, biologist Elena Bazilescu conducts her activity at the Museum from Craiova and displays data about the fauna of Mehedinți and Gorj counties. She also creates an extensive collection of bat preparatory materials. In the ’70s, zoologist Dumitru Murariu begins his career by enriching the academic literature with faunistic data and syntheses from his area of expertise. Năstase Răduleţ works in the same institute and starts with fauna observations from Dobrogea and continues his work with researches on bone morphology.

After the study of the karst regions of Dumitrescu, until 1990, almost no researcher – except biochemists – will publish data from Transylvania. They study the activity of enzymes (Kollasovits in Sibiu, Pora and Oros in Cluj). Zoologist experts from the agricultural industry (Hamar, Marcu) extremly rarely pay attention to bats, as do amateur caving clubs. Starting from the early ’70s, Vasile Decu and the Negrea couple (Ștefan Negrea, Alexandrina Negrea) from the Institute of Speleology in Bucharest, tackle the subject of guano accumulation from caves and the biocoenosis from guano. They receive help from Frenchman Carbonnel in the carbon dating of the guano deposits.

Thanks to all the articles published, the interest of researchers from abroad in Romania remains quite high. In the ’60s, Rauschert visits the Southern Carpathians, and during the ’70s Červený investigates the Dobrogea area, using for the first time in this area a chiropterological net (mist net). In the ’80s, Topál processes bone samples from Sugău Cave, from the lower Pleistocene deposits. In the ’90s, Grimmberger visits the Dobrogea area while Gulyás and Dobrosi identify ringed bats from Hungary in the Apuseni Mountains. In the new millennium, Hermanns and his collaborators investigate the Dobrogea area, Jacobs and Blondé are interested in the fauna of bats from the Saxon countryside, Lučan collects data in the Apuseni Mountains, Uhrin explores the whole country etc.

After World War II, the research of migration routes by ringing of bats, done in the Soviet Union and in countries of Western Europe, did not gain terrain in our country. However, there have been some attempts, for example Dumitrescu in the ’50s rings Méhely horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus méhelyi) to highlight the connections between different known shelters from Dobrogea, but the study remaines unpublished. The initiatives of Bazilescu in Gorj County had almost the same fate (they were succinctly published after four decades). The majority of horseshoe bats were ringed in late ’60s with the purpose of demonstrating the connections between the birth colonies located in buildings and the underground hibernating shelters. The national record for “ringed and recaptured in the country” category belongs to a large Rhinolophus bat which was ringed by Bazilescu in the Muierii Cave and was recaptured in the summer colony from Berlești. The bat had covered a total distance of 35 km.

In 2000, Teodora Ivanova (Bulgaria) with the help of Nagy and Szántó rings bent-winged bats (Miniopterus schreibersii) in several caves in Dobrogea with the purpose of clarifying the connections between the shelters from Romania and the ones from Bulgaria. The study does not have a meaningful outcome: the individuals are being caught only in the place where they were ringed. Experiments aiming at the connections between Hungary and the Western Carpathians have a greater success. Several mentions of recaptured large horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) individuals are being made. But the record in the category of cross-border is held by a parti-colored bat (Vespertilio murinus), ringed in Belarus and recaptured in Vrancea County in 1959 with a total of 950 km covered (Kurskov, 1963).

The generation of researchers from the ’90s and early 21st century appears in the major university centers (Cluj, Bucharest, Iași, Sibiu). In some of those centers, teachers involved in chiropterology were still active: teachers as prof. Niculai Valenciuc in Iași and currently active conf. Ioan Coroiu in Cluj. Some of the young biologists and ecologists establish the Romanian Bat Protection Association and get involved in national fauna research, monitoring the number of bats in caves and buildings, exploring the different habitats used by bats, as well as in information and awareness activities. The association pays special attention to bat populations in the Apuseni Mountains and implements a Life+ project focused on them. Members of the association are familiar with the most modern methods of research, using mist nets, harp traps, ultrasound detectors of various types etc. Besides the association, the Romanian Federation of Chiropterology also exists. It was founded by researchers from Bucharest and Suceava, with the help of several caving clubs. Its’ trademark publication is Miscellanea Chiropterologica, with 2 issues until today.

In 2001, the first workshop with ultrasound detectors is organized and conducted with the help of Dutch researcher Herman Limpens in Cefa. In 2006, Romanians also start following the British model of the „Indicator bats” monitoring program, based on vehicles, in which several teams across the country carry out standard transects and record bat ultrasounds. In 2011, Frenchman Michel Barataud together with other Belgian specialists hold acoustic research workshops in Bâlnaca, thus the notion of the “Belgian research method” is born, and which is applied for the inventory and bat evaluation of natural areas with conservation value.

Methods of molecular taxonomy and genetics of populations in the research of bats in Romania are applied for the first time by Bücs and collaborators in the study of genetic diversity in Myotis myotis. Several articles appear in 2005-2009. Research is being also undertaken by Dragu (with Borissov, 2011) for the last Romanian population of Rhinolophus méhelyi in order to identify their degree of isolation.  Daniela Borda carries out microbiology studies on underground habitats used by bats (2005).

Elaborate research based on the multi-annual monitoring of swarming sites and activity are undertaken in various areas by Jére, Csősz, Barti, Bücs, Szodoray-Parádi, Pocora, Mărginean and others. In 2006, the First National Chiropterological Conference of Romania takes place in Băile Homorod. In 2008, the RBPA, in partnership with several institutions organizes in Cluj the 11th European Symposium on Bat Research (EBRS), an event of European importance, with over 300 participants. In 2015, the 10th Hungarian Bat Protection Conference is organized in Bâlnaca. In October 2016, the 2nd National Chiropterological Conference of Romania is organized in Plaiul Foii, Piatra Craiului Mountains.