Archive for the ‘bats’ tag

Become a Bat Detective

By October 1st, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Comment

Courtesy of USGS

Courtesy of USGS

We couldn’t have asked for a better citizen science project to start off October, a month often associated with Halloween and all things spooky.

Introducing Bat Detective, a project that enlists citizen scientists to screen sound recordings of bats to classify their distinct calls. Bats are nocturnal, making them very difficult to spot with the naked eye, so a growing number of bat surveys are being done acoustically instead. Bat calls “leak” information into the environment each night through echolocation, which bats use to sonically navigate, socialize, and locate prey in the dark.

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Citizen scientists from all over the world have already recorded about 3,000 hours of acoustic surveys. Bat Detective has split the surveys in 4-second snapshots, so there are actually millions of files to be sorted. With only a few scientists, it would be an incredibly tedious, perhaps even impossible task. However, with the help of citizen scientists like you, the job will get done much more quickly!

These classifications will be used to create a new algorithm to help researchers easily extract information from their sound recordings and more closely monitor threatened bat populations. Bats are an integral part of their local ecosystems, but one in every five species of bat will face extinction over the next 50 years.

Bats carry out lots of ‘ecosystem services’ like pollination and seed dispersal,” said Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London and Zoological Society of London. “They also eat masses of insects. Losing bats means that all those services are degraded,” added Jones, whose Bat Detective project was made possible through Zooniverse , a popular online citizen science platform.

“The idea of Bat Detective really caught the imagination of the Zooniverse team, and when we heard the bat calls we were sold,” said Chris Lintott, director of Zooniverse. “The rapid sequence of calls that make up a feeding call, and which means the bat has found its prey, is once heard and never forgotten.”

Bats are also incredibly vulnerable to climate change, since their hibernation and migration patterns depend largely on weather patterns, so the success or failure of their local populations often serve as a early warning sign of the failing health of the local ecosystem as a whole. Need we say more?

Be sure to sign up for this sonically exciting and scintillating citizen science scheme! While you’re at it, check out our other bat-related citizen science projects in our Project Finder. You can help the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources with acoustic bat monitoring or identify Indian flying fox bats with the South Asian Bat Monitoring Program.

Coming soon: a collection of Halloween-themed citizen science projects. Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled!

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.