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Sharing Secrets of the Night

Monitoring Bats on American Prairie Reserve

Story by American Prairie Reserve August 4th, 2015


There’s still a lot of mystery when it comes to bats, and researchers are racing to discover their secrets before it’s too late. In 2006, a threat emerged called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), and it can wipe out 90-100% of bats at a single site. WNS is caused by a soil fungus that survives in the same cold, dark places where bats hibernate, and it has spread to 26 states and Canadian provinces so far.



Experts and agencies across the country are trying hard to close the knowledge gap, and new funding for bat science is providing an opportunity for Montana biologists to undertake a year-round acoustic monitoring program. The landscape-scale effort has involved the installation of more than 50 acoustic recording stations across the state on lands managed by the State, tribes, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and private landowners.

Because each bat species produces a unique call, acoustic recordings help determine the diversity of species in the area and when they are flying. This information can be combined with weather station data on temperature, wind speed and barometric pressure, which scientists hope will give some answers about the conditions during which bats move around. With this data in hand, scientists can start answering questions about the timing of migrations and hibernation as well as identify patterns of activity – and just in time.

BUILDING A foundation

Of Montana’s 15 bat species, 9 are in danger of experiencing drastic mortality if/when White-Nose Syndrome arrives in the state (including several species found on the prairie). By conducting bat surveys now, the acoustic monitoring program provides a crucial baseline of Montana’s bat activity levels that agencies and land managers can use to track potential declines moving forward. Without this crucial foundation of information, we might never know the full story.


American Prairie Reserve (APR) is proud to serve as host to one of the newest acoustic monitoring stations, which was installed in June by Dr. Bryce Maxell of the Montana Natural Heritage Program and Amie Shovlain of the U.S. Forest Service. They were joined by Reserve Supervisor Damien Austin, who scouted a location in the Sun Prairie region that meets the project’s criteria (see below) and who will also serve as APR’s liaison to the bat program.

Damien first learned of the acoustic monitoring program in 2012. He’s excited to bring the study to APR lands because “Bats are such an important part of the ecosystem, and we don’t know very much about the populations on the Reserve.”

Criteria for Bat Acoustic Monitoring Locations

- Fills a gap in statewide acoustic monitoring scheme

- Provides information to inform local management decisions

- Roost habitat is available in the nearby landscape, preferably year-round

- Surface water is available in the nearby landscape, preferably year-round

- Adequate solar exposure for charging a battery to power the detector/recorder

- Free of vegetation or other sources of ultrasonic noises in the immediate vicinity

- Detector is not at risk of damage from vandalism, cows, or other hazards.

Setting up supplies for the bat monitoring station
A solar panel helps power the monitoring station.
Testing the microphone
Bryce, Amie and Damien go through protocols.
Damien learns how to maintain the equipment.
Protecting the station from human and non-human interference.


It took a full morning to get the site ready for science. The station includes multiple pieces, including the bat detector/recorder, microphones hoisted overhead, and the 12-volt battery and 30 Watt solar panel that keeps it all running. Once everything was connected and tested, Bryce and Amie trained Damien on the equipment so that he can return each month to collect data and swap out memory cards. Some final post pounding and barbed wire will hopefully keep out curious animals – humans and bison alike.
We look forward to learning more about the diversity of bats on American Prairie Reserve and their activities. After all, bats can eat an estimated 1,000 mosquitoes an hour! That’s something all people, horses and even sage grouse can appreciate, especially with the threat of West Nile Virus.


Learn more about White-Nose Syndrome.
Read about bat echolocation and ultrasonic sounds.
Help bats where you live with a bat house.

Access the full acoustic bat monitoring plan for Montana.


Big Brown Bat - Eastern Red Bat - Hoary Bat - Little Brown Myotis - Long-eared Myotis - Long Legged Myotis - Silver-haired Bat - Spotted Bat - Townsend’s Big-eared Bat - Western Small-footed Myotis