Susan Loeb standing in a forest

In plots on the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina, Loeb and collaborators study various approaches to establishing early successional habitat to benefit biodiversity. | Photo by Jonathan Brooks, Clemson University.

Meet Susan Loeb, a Research Ecologist with the Southern Research Station’s Upland Hardwood Ecology and Management Research Unit in Clemson, South Carolina. She has studied bats for two decades, but her work began taking on a sense of urgency in 2007—the year White-nose syndrome (WNS), a deadly fungal disease, was discovered in the eastern United States. In addition to WNS, bats across the nation are now facing threats from wind energy facilities, habitat loss and fragmentation, and climate variability. Recognizing the need for a cohesive, effective, and efficient way to track changes in bat populations, Loeb led the development of “A plan for the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat),” published in 2015 to guide international, multiagency bat monitoring efforts to inform decision making around bat conservation. The publication resulted in a Wings Across the Americas Research Partnership Award for Loeb and the team who contributed to the NABat plan, the second such award for Loeb: she and partners previously won the Wings Across the Americas Bat Conservation Award in 2008 for cooperative research on the ecology and conservation of forest bats in the Southeast. Read on to learn more about her and her critical work, which also earned her a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network in 2014.

Susan Loeb weighing a bat in a tunnel

Loeb weighs a tri-colored bat in Stumphouse Tunnel, a hibernaculum in northwestern South Carolina. | Photo by Jonathan Brooks, Clemson University.

What do you do for the Southern Research Station?

“As a Research Ecologist, I study bat ecology and conservation throughout the southeastern United States.”

When and why did you come to work for the Southern Research Station?

“I had the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate student and realized it was something that I really enjoyed and wanted to pursue. After receiving my PhD, I was offered a 2-year position as a post-doctoral researcher with the Southern Research Station. During that time, I studied the interactions between southern flying squirrels and red-cockaded woodpeckers. The position became permanent in 1990 and I have been here ever since.”

What led you to pursue this field of study?

“I moved to bat research in 1998. I was finishing up the southern flying squirrel work and proposed working on northern flying squirrels which are endangered in the Southern Appalachians. However, cooperators, customers, and partners identified bats as a high conservation and research need and asked me to consider focusing on bats. So, I spent 6 months determining whether there really was a need for bat research in the South and whether the Forest Service could conduct the research that was needed. The answer to both those questions was ‘Yes,’ so I designed a program to address the research needs and then started conducting the research.”

What is a typical workday like for you in the field, lab, and/or office?

“There is no such thing as a typical workday for me, which may be why the job is still interesting and fun! During the spring, summer, and fall, my field work may include capturing bats at night using mist-nets or placing bat detectors in various areas on the landscape. In the winter, my research team and I visit various bat hibernacula to census bats and place radio transmitters on them to determine their torpor patterns. If I am in the office, I may be working on proposals to start new work, analyzing data for current or previous work, working on manuscripts, connecting with partners and cooperators, meeting with my graduate students about their research, or dealing with administrative issues such as cooperative agreements or personnel needs.”

Susan Loeb standing with the NABat team

The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis in Knoxville, TN, hosted Loeb and an international team who contributed to the development of the NABat plan. | Photographer unknown.

Have you had any unexpected, unusual, or exciting opportunities or experiences as a result of your work?

“One great opportunity was spending a few weeks on the Chugach National Forest in south central Alaska studying the bat populations there. This was a totally different ecological system from the one I usually work in. Although the work was challenging, it was great fun and worthwhile and has led to further work by others on the Chugach National Forest.”

What do you enjoy most about your work?

“One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is working with graduate students. Because my office is located in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation at Clemson University, I am able to work with students on a daily basis. It is very rewarding to see the students grow and gain confidence in their abilities as scientists, and their questions about their projects and biology continue to challenge me and make me think about things in new ways.”

Cover of “A plan for the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)”

Loeb led the development of “A plan for the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat),” published in 2015 and honored with a Wings Across the Americas Research Partnership Award.

What women have inspired you?

“I have had the opportunity to work with a number of inspiring women throughout my career in the Forest Service. Some of these women include many of my colleagues in the Southern Research Station. One woman who inspired me early on is Dr. Rebecca Sharitz of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. She is someone that I view as a very positive role-model. Becky worked in a very male-dominated environment, but was highly respected because of the high quality of her science. She always handled herself with grace and kept discussions reasoned and rational even in the most challenging and stressful situations.”

What advice do you have for others interested in this field or another career in science?

“I suggest that students try to get as much experience as possible and work with a variety of different people, including those in research as well as in management. I also think going to professional meetings, either at the regional or national scale, is a great way for students to learn what is going on in their field of interest and to meet and connect people they may be interested in working with.”

Rafinesque's big-eared bat

Big-eared bats are one of the most common groups of bats in the eastern United States, but all big-eared bat species in the East are at risk. Pictured is a Rafinesque's big-eared bat. | Photo by U.S. Forest Service, Bugwood.org.