Biology alumna begins year-long fellowship with Smithsonian Bat Lab in Panama

Biology alumna begins year-long fellowship with Smithsonian Bat Lab in Panama

Biology alumna begins year-long fellowship with Smithsonian Bat Lab in Panama

Heather Jingco takes data for bats caught via mist netting in Panama. She is working with the Smithsonian Bat Lab to determine the effect of light pollution on their foraging behaviors.
Heather Jingco at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
UOG alumna Heather Jingco, front row left, with the GSS RaMP-UP cohort. (Back row, from left) Mia Murray, Kyaralind Vasquez-Liriano, Paola Soto Mendez, Lauren Norwood. (Front row, from left) Mary Heather Jingco, Arnaldo Diaz, CrisUan Molina, Ruth Korder, Claudia Berry, John Nyugen, Ilana Vargas, and Fransua Mar.

A former president of the University of Guam Biology Club and former Doris Duke Conservation Scholar has made her way to the tropical forests of Panama, where she is conducting a year-long study on bats under the mentorship of a Smithsonian research scientist.

Photo of Heather Jingco

Heather Jingco, a ’22 B.S. Biology – Integrative Biology alumna under the UOG College of Natural & Applied Sciences, is in the first-ever group of scholars selected for RaMP-UP — a paid one-year fellowship offered by the Global Sustainability Scholars program of the University of Colorado Boulder and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. It aims to nurture scholars from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM fields to eventual research careers focused on tropical biodiversity.

Her cohort, which began in October, includes 12 scholars from around the United States and its territories.

“Being a part of a cohort of young scientists with diverse backgrounds yet on the same journey for the next year is impactful knowing that we share the same goals for the future of science,” Jingco said.

Working to evaluate the effects of light pollution on bats

With an interest in behavioral research and tropical ecosystems, Jingco was placed under the Smithsonian Bat Lab with Dr. Rachel Page as her main mentor. Their goal is to find out if light pollution is affecting the feeding habits of the Carollia perspicillata, known as Seba’s short-tailed bat, and if artificial light has any effect on their foraging.

“Artificial lights are known to affect the foraging behavior of bats, and under both free and captive conditions, frugivorous bats show reduced foraging success when exposed to light,” Jingco said.

She says their findings could have implications on the flexibility and resiliency of these bats in their increasingly urbanized habitat.

Her path to conservation work

Photo of Heather Jingco

Jingco’s first step into biological conservation work was during her sophomore year at UOG, when she was selected to be a 2020 Doris Duke Conservation Scholar through the University of Washington.

Immersed in conservation projects over two summers with the program, she learned about conservation as it related to biocultural work, ecology restoration, food systems, and environmental justice. Her exposure was later expanded during a second summer internship at the Beavers Northwest nonprofit organization in Washington.

“I was able to expand my professional network within the field of conservation as well as gain insight into the type of work I would like to be a part of in the future,” she said.

Jingco said her UOG biology professors — Dr. Curt Fiedler, Dr. Daniel Lindstrom, and Dr. Frank Camacho — were crucial in encouraging and guiding her and her classmates to apply for these opportunities.

Photo of fellowship cohort in a crane above Parque Natural Metropolitano  “I would not have been aware of the numerous opportunities to grow within the field outside of Guam, and I am thankful for the doors they have opened for me and my peers,” she said.

Apart from summer internships, Jingco was an active participant in UOG’s student organizations, serving as the Biology Club president and as vice president of the UOG SACNAS chapter during her senior year.

“She was one of our standout graduates in Fañomnåkan 2022 in the Integrative Biology Track,” Fiedler said.

After graduating, she worked for Fiedler as a research associate on his endangered snail and butterfly surveys up until she left for the fellowship in Panama.

A desire to nurture a deeper connection with nature

The fellowship is a steppingstone that Jingco said she hopes to eventually apply to the many needed conservation efforts in Guam and the Mariana Islands. Her plans include pursuing a graduate degree and then working throughout the Marianas, staying close to her roots.

“My goal for the next year is to develop practical research skills and learn how research is structured within a tropical ecological context and to bring that knowledge back home with the goal of eventual application,” she said.

Jingco encourages interested UOG undergrads interested in conservation and biodiversity to apply to next year’s RaMP-UP program. The program is now accepting applications for its 2024 cohort until April 28, 2024.

“I hope that this opportunity I’ve been lucky to take part in will inspire other islanders to dream big, develop their skills, and pay it back to our community and our islands,” she said.