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“Bat Man” Named Warren Distinguished Professor

Highest faculty honor to advocate for the winged mammals

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Thomas Kunz, BU’s newest William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor, traps bats in a Framingham, Mass., barn for his research in 2009. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Thomas Kunz, a tireless crusader on behalf of bats all over the world, is the University’s newest William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor, BU’s highest faculty honor.

President Robert A. Brown appointed the College of Arts & Sciences biology professor, who is observing his 40th anniversary at BU this year, as the sixth Warren professor. “Tom Kunz is an exemplary researcher, scholar, teacher, and faculty leader,” says Brown. “The Warren Professorship is a wonderful recognition of his career at Boston University and the national and international recognition of his research.”

Kunz, director of BU’s Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology (CECB), says he is “humbled and honored” by the distinguished professorship. The honor implicitly recognizes his students and colleagues, he says, because they “are where I draw my enthusiasm and inspiration.”

“Bat Man,” as he’s been called for his expertise after 45 years of research into the winged mammals, has studied bats in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Trinidad, India, and Malaysia, as well as throughout the United States. Kunz’s research made news last year when a team he assembled predicted the possible eradication within 16 years of the little brown bat—a once common and still ecologically essential creature—by a lethal and little-understood disease, white-nose syndrome.

Kunz says he’s proud of the Bat Man moniker, because “it gives me the opportunity to tout the value of these misunderstood and often unappreciated animals.” He routinely extols the benefits of bats, such as their appetite for pestilent insects, including West Nile virus–bearing mosquitoes, and their role in the pollination of flowers and the dispersal of seeds essential to ecosystems.

He also invented aeroecology, the study of the web of airborne influences and creatures, from bats and birds to microbes. Two weeks ago, Kunz and colleagues briefed a group of international science writers on the topic at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference, where he headlined a symposium on aeroecology. Kunz is a fellow of the association.

Among his proudest accomplishments, he says, are founding a tropical ecology program in Ecuador and cofounding a biodiversity station there, both as director of the CECB.

Kunz graduated from the University of Central Missouri, Drake University, and the University of Kansas. Author, coauthor, editor, and coeditor of more than 240 publications, he is a former president and an honorary member of the American Society of Mammalogists and the 2008 winner of the lifetime achievement award from the aquifer-researching Karst Waters Institute.

The William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professorship is named for BU’s first president, who governed from 1873 to 1903. The other chair holders are George Annas, of the School of Public Health; James Collins, of the College of Engineering; and from CAS, James Winn (English), Nancy J. Kopell (mathematics and statistics), and Laurence Kotlikoff (economics).

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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