Two batty science projects

By August 12th, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Comment

You might encounter a little brown bat at Seward Park.  Photo: Seward Park Audubon Center

You might encounter a little brown bat at Seward Park. Photo: Seward Park Audubon Center

For those citizen scientists in the western states who like staying up late, here’s your chance to spy on some winged mammals for science. Two monitoring projects still need your help observing and listening for bats this summer.

Citizen scientists in Seattle are needed to help researchers determine what types of bats are chirping in the forest near Seward Park. The researchers provide the monitoring devices and software but they need your help to actually collect the data. You’re also welcome back in the lab to analyze your findings using Sonobat software, a program that lets researchers visualize and analyze bat calls. (This is only one of the many citizen-science projects taking place at the Seward Park Audubon Center.)

Farther north, researchers at the Alaska Bat Monitoring Project need help from observers all over the state. Citizen scientists are asked to take note of when and where they see bats across Alaska. Five kinds of bats are thought to live in Alaska, and previous reports from volunteers have helped scientists get a better idea of their range. However, researchers would like to better understand where bats live during the summer. This is where you come in: If you see a bat, try to figure out what kind it is using pictures on the website, and then send in your observations to the Alaska Bat Monitoring Project.

Surveys such as these are crucial, as bats are important for keeping insect populations under control. According to Bat Conservation International, most bats are insectivores, and a single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects per hour! Other bats that feed on fruit or nectar are helpful pollinators and seed-dispersers. Unfortunately, many factors, from destruction of habitat and food sources to outright killing by humans, coupled with a slow reproduction rate have led to a global decline in bats. Recently, a mysterious white fungus, called “white-nose syndrome” has been particularly devastating to bats populations. Researchers are still unraveling the reason for this outbreak, but have not been able to halt its spread.

According to the Organization for Bat Conservation, the best time to spot a bat is on a warm summer evening just after the sun has set. Remember, bats like to eat insects, so look for places with lots of flying critters (and don’t forget the bug spray for yourself). With your help, researchers hope to gain a better idea of how many bats are left and where they live.

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