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In Deep Guano

Christopher Wurster digging a guano pile in Gomantong Caves, Sabah, Malaysia.

Christopher Wurster digging a guano pile in Gomantong Caves, Sabah, Malaysia.

By Christopher Wurster

Deep deposits of guano are revealing why South-East Asia is a biodiversity hotspot.

Christopher Wurster is a Senior Research Associate at James Cook University.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

We arrived at mid-day after following an obscure dirt track somewhere in the middle of Sonora, Mexico. The plan was to find the cave with the help of some coordinates I had grabbed from a scientific paper.

After arriving at the spot using the latest in technology at the time, a bulky hand-held GPS, the three of us looked around. We were standing on flat, low ground containing desert scrub, and could see around us fairly well. The nearest hill rose just a little above the horizon.

“Well, the coordinates are wrong,” Matt smiled as he spoke.

“Let’s get looking,” I said.

We moved to the nearest hill, split up and clambered about. I scrambled up the top and almost immediately caught a strange odour. “There is a strange smell about!” I yelled with some excitement. Following my nose, I came to the cave and almost immediately spied my companions following a well-made dirt road leading directly to the mouth of “Cueva del Tigre”.

I chose this cave because it is a roost for millions of Mexican free-tailed bats during the summer. Collectively, the bats drop faecal pellets (guano) and urinate on the floor of the cave in huge quantities. This was the source of the strong odour. If the cave served continuously as a roost and erosion was limited, there ought to be a record of past environments stored in the guano sediments.

The plan was simple...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.