When it comes to monitoring wildlife, it can get tricky. I mean, we can’t walk up to our species of interest and ask them “Hey is it cool if we study you? We promise it’ll be beneficial to both parties”. Depending on the species, they’ll probably just ignore you, run away, or attack you. All of these options don’t sound very helpful and won’t get us anywhere. Thankfully, researchers have techniques and tools to help them survey and monitor wildlife, and I’ve recently had the pleasure of assisting a Forest Service Wildlife Technician in their efforts to monitor an amazing creature. What creatures are we monitoring? Bats! You heard that right! Bats. Contrary to popular belief, bats are not scary, blood sucking creatures that only live to spread disease. Rather, they are actually amazing creatures who are adorable and benefit us humans. They are the only flying mammal and can curb insect population thanks to their voracious appetite (so much that they save the U.S. more than $1 billion dollars in agriculture annually). There are more than 1000 bats species in the world and they vary a lot in size and appearance. For example, the smallest bat (bumblebee bat) is only 1 inch in length, and the largest bats (belonging in the flying fox family) can have wingspans up to 5 feet! Here in Oregon, we have 15 species and they’re all on the smaller spectrum and come out at dusk/night. It’s that last part that makes them challenging to monitor. How can we monitor something in the dark when we can’t see or hear it (they emit high frequency calls that are above the human hearing range)?
Thankfully, we have special equipment called acoustic monitors. It consists of a monitoring device that sets a timer and desired frequency that can trigger a very special and sensitive microphone to record whenever ultrasonic bat frequencies are detected. The monitor and detector working in tandem allow us to record bat calls for research purposes. Once the recordings are collected, they can be uploaded in a computer program that identifies the calls and matches them to a database and reveals the identity of the bat emitting the call. By using this technique, we can determine bat presence or absence in a given area and gain an idea of their distribution.
Setting the monitors was a lot of fun. The plan was to set up 4 of them in different environments within Mary’s Peak. We placed them in a meadow, a steep hill, near a road, and near a cliff. By sampling different areas, we have a higher chance of coming across all the bats in the area. It was hard work. Metal rods had to be pounded into the ground to provide structural support for the pvc pipes that hold up the ultrasonic microphone 10 feet in the air. The monitor was set in an ammo box and placed next to the microphone. Site specific data (such as vegetation coverage, forecast, temperature, etc) was also recorded. It was definitely fun work. It was sweaty, hot, and itchy work (some areas had thorny plants such as stinging nettle) that had me tired at the end of the day. But I enjoyed every minute of it. I got to explore Mary’s Peak all day and had great conversations with Casey Hayes, wildlife technician, about bats and conservation. More importantly, the bat monitoring efforts the Forest Service are conducting provide important information to help conserve bats. Currently, bats are facing a huge threat that is decimating their numbers and that is White Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is a cold loving fungus that targets bats. It affects hibernating bats and causes them to wake up during winter and use up valuable fat reserves and makes it extremely challenging to survive winter. It’s due to this catastrophe that makes monitoring efforts very important because it would allow researchers to track changes and make decisions to help bats. All the work to set up the bat monitors was worth it to gather this sensitive information.