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.
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.”
- 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.