TCU Bat Monitoring Program
In 2013, TCU initiated an Outreach Bat Monitoring Program in Fort Worth, Texas, with the help of the Andrews Institute of Mathematics & Science Education and NextEra Energy Resources. This program is designed to to 1) Raise public awareness for bats, and 2) Establish one of the first long-term studies to monitor bat populations in Texas.
Why monitor bats? – North American bats are currently subject to a number of potentially serious threats including a fatal disease called white nose syndrome (http://www.fs.fed.us/biology/resources/pubs/tes/wns-brochure8310.pdf) and land-use change; the destruction, alteration or disturbance of foraging habitat, movement corridors, and roosting sites has lead to the decline of bat populations globally. Simple put, cutting down a tree, vandalizing a cave or using insecticides can leave bats without shelter or food.
There there is great uncertainty as to whether such threats are negatively impacting bat populations. This uncertainty stems from the fact that bat populations are not currently monitored and for many species we do not have reliable population estimates. Despite how bats are portrayed by the media, they provide important ecosystem services such as plant pollination, insect control (e.g., they eat the mosquitoes that can spread West Nile virus), and seed dispersal. Moreover, bats are essential natural pest controllers and they are estimated to save the agricultural industry $3.5 billion annually in pesticides and agricultural damage. Raising awareness of the importance of bats to our ecosystems and dispelling negative myths will play an integral role in bat conservation.
How are bats monitored? – Unlike birds, bats are cryptic, nocturnal, and produce vocalizations that are above human audible levels (ultrasonic). While these characteristics have made surveying bat populations more challenging, it is not impossible to do. With ultrasonic detectors that make high frequency bat calls audible to humans, we can conduct surveys that allow us to record bat activity. In turn, by monitoring annual bat activity, we can gain much needed insights into any changes that might occur among local bat abundance from year to year and migration patterns of bats.
In our monitoring program, we walk 1 km stretches of paved trails or roads (i.e., a transect) in local parks currently within Fort Worth every week from March to November. Each walk begins at dusk and continues for an hour when the bats are most active. Using an ultrasonic bat detector, a foraging bat within 10 m of a detector can be heard as a series of fast clicks. From these bat vocalizations (known as a bat pass), we can record the number of times a bat passes by while walking along the transect.
How to get involved – We have been approaching local schools to raise awareness of bats and invite students and teachers to get involved in the bat-monitoring program. Put up bat boxes in your backyard. As roosting opportunities for bats are in short supply, providing roost sites will give some of your local bats the shelter they need. Reduce pesticide use. If bats do their jobs and eat your pests, then it can save you money. Contact Dr. Tory Bennett for more information or to get involved.