The Challenges and Rewards of Bat Population Research

One major challenge that I’ve found in the course of this internship is that research can be somewhat discouraging. The decimation in the bat population demographics in the Northeastern United States since the White-Nose outbreak in 2006 has been well documented; however, it is different to know this information theoretically than to physically go out in search of bats and come up empty. I think bats are fascinating animals, as well as an essential part of forest ecosystems, so it can be frustrating to do population research and see the depth of the problem firsthand without having any means to help fix the issue. That being said, the experience I’ve gained over the course of the past several weeks has been rewarding overall. Even though there is no instant gratification or breakthrough associated with this type of population study, it is comforting to know that the data that we collect can help other researchers understand the bat population dilemma in great detail and hopefully take a step closer in finding the solution. We are hoping that our data will be published locally as part of an ongoing study of Northeastern bats post-2006 and that the combined data collected by researchers across the United States may help stop the spread of White-Nose Syndrome.

The SM3 recording device and microphone positioned in a bog next to Lackawanna Lake before sundown. The device is very heavy so we have to use several bungee cords to stabilize it on the poles. The microphone (not pictured) is delicate and must be out of reach of both animals and humans.

The Echo Meter Touch 2 hardware. This hardware plugs into an iPhone port and communicates with a corresponding app (see Figure 3 and 4).

A screenshot from my iPhone. The Echo Meter device (see Figure 2) communicates with the Echo Meter App which records and analyzes bat calls in real time. The column reading “Species” lists off the four species of bat that we have definitively found in Lackawanna State Park and corresponds the species label with their “Count.” The “Count” column does not tell us number of members of that species that we recorded, but merely the number of calls recorded. This makes it difficult to get an accurate population estimate.

A screenshot of the Echo Meter app from my iPhone. This diagram shows three echolocation calls made by Eptesicus Fuscus, more commonly known as the Big Brown Bat. Though based on the spacing it appears that all three calls were made by the same bat, we have no way of definitively proving whether one bat made all three calls, or three bats each made one call, or one bat made two calls and another bat made the other call, etc.

Tate Ackerman
Biology, Spanish, Philosophy

One thought on “The Challenges and Rewards of Bat Population Research

  1. Stefan Olsen

    Hi Tate, it’s sad to read about the decline in the bat population because of such a devastating disease. I hope that the data you collected provide to others a more clear picture of the severity of the White-nose disease. Regarding your internship experience, I hope the summer was both fruitful and interesting. Good luck with the beginning of the academic year and with future research endeavors!

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