Sarah Downing, NMP EcoLab Intern and Marian University Biology student | July 30, 2019
Bats play important roles in our ecosystems, especially in the summer. All thirteen species of bats in Indiana are insectivores and are able to eat half of their body weight in insects each night! Bats help control mosquito, fly, and gnat levels during their peak summer months. The U.S. National Park Service states that bats save $3.7 billion in pest control annually, and are also great pollinators and seed distributors. With all of these benefits, it’s clear that bats are crucial species in ecosystems.
Sadly, bat populations have been decreasing across the country. In summer months, many bats roost and care for their young in trees. Deforestation deprives bats of their much-needed shelters. White-nose Syndrome (WNS), first recorded in 2006, is a fungus infection that has impacted bat numbers highly in recent years, specifically cave roosting species. In some infected colonies, researchers have reported 90-100% death rate from WNS. This has led to six of the thirteen bat species in Indiana to be labelled endangered.
Because of this, Nina Mason Pulliam (NMP) Ecolab staff and student interns are taking steps in order to help save and learn more about Indiana bat species! For the past 2 summers we have been using an Echometer Touch PRO to get a good idea of what types of bats call the NMP EcoLab home. Echometers are able to pick up a species’ unique echolocation frequency, transpose it into a range we can see, identify, and record. Researchers are able to determine in real time the species of bats located around them with 80% accuracy! It is an invaluable new tool in the field of bat biology.
From our preliminary research, we have been able to determine roosting locations of certain bat species, preferred hunting locations, and have recorded eight species. Four of the species recorded are considered state endangered, so part of our future research will be to verify the presence and location of these species. With this data, we are able to learn how to better care for and protect the bats located in our wetlands and lowland forest habitats.
Wondering what you can do? There are many ways you can help Indiana’s bats! The Ecolab hosts bat walks in the summer where we use our Echometer to find bats so that you can learn more about them. We also have a bats-themed field trip for student groups! You can support other local organizations that conserve and restore bat habitat (good examples are DNR, Bat Conservation International, and your local land trusts). Consider building more suitable roosting ground by planting trees or building bat boxes in your backyard, and leaving dead standing trees where it’s safe to do so. Using less pesticides in our gardens and backyards also gives them more feeding grounds and keeps our bats healthy. Do it for the bats!