Long days in urban bat outreach

Demo at our house 2 (1)

Bat walk led by Amanda Bevan, Urban Bat Project, Organization for Bat Conservation in Pontiac, Michigan.  Credit: Organization for Bat Conservation.

Amanda Bevan is busy and for her, that’s a good thing.

As the Organization for Bat Conservation’s Urban Bat Project Leader, Bevan educates city folks about the importance of bats, and if she’s busy, it means people are aware of the decline of bats due to white nose syndrome (WNS) disease and want to help.

With the help of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service WNS grant, Bevan organizes conservation and outreach partnerships in 10 cities in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee, New York, Minnesota, Ohio and the District of Columbia. She says she hopes to expand the project to other cities in the future with additional funding.

Partners include a Milwaukee horticultural society, Columbus Audubon, Illinois State Museum,  a District of Columbia Fisheries and Wildlife Division bat biologist, high school teachers and students, bat researchers and horticulturalists like those at the New York Botanical Gardens.

They set up warm, safe bat boxes made from upcycled Chevy Volt battery cases for breeding females, plant bat-friendly gardens of wildflowers that attract the bats’ prey insects, and conduct bat walks in which citizen scientists drive and walk around urban areas with hand-held bat detectors that records bat calls and identify species through an app on their smart phones.

Fulton High school construction class_Knoxville_TN

Students in Fulton High School’s construction class building bat houses using donated corvette circuit boards and Chevy Volt battery cases from GM. Credit: Organization for Bat Conservation.

“Most of the time, people can learn what species are living in their neighborhood in real time,” Bevan said.

Surprisingly, urban bat habitats are important, Bevan explains. Urban bat conservation may help reduce effects of WNS by providing alternative roosting habitat that might be unsuitable for the fungus that causes WNS, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd.

Urban bats likely hibernate in the city in addition to breeding there in the summer, and Pd cannot survive the temperatures and humidity found in buildings and bat houses. If the urban bat project increases public support for bats in cities, it might bolster populations that have been decimated by WNS in other habitats.

“We don’t know if big brown bats are not as affected by WNS in cities.”

Typically people find big brown bats in urban areas, a species that has escaped much of the large population drops found in other species.  “We don’t know if big brown bats are not as affected by WNS in cities,” Bevan adds.  It’s one of many questions about urban bats she hopes the citizen science project can address in the future.

The urban bat project is not just focused on big brown bats. Urban areas are important for migrating bats through urban areas from other populations in other regions. Project participants often see little brown bats in the city and northern long-eared bats in eaves of suburban homes and trees that surround them.

Bevan’s work also includes presentations with live bats from the 11 species housed at the Organization for Bat Conservation’s injured bat sanctuary. In addition to flying foxes and other bats from around the world, she gives her audiences a close-up view of species that fly around their neighborhood such as Indiana and big brown bats.

Red_bat_detroit

Red bat spotted in Detroit by one of Organization for Bat Conservation’s  Urban Bat Project (UBP) partners. Credit: Organization for Bat Conservation.

When a child and their parent attend one of the Organization for Bat Conservation’s environmental education events, Bevan reminds them how useful bats are in agricultural and urban areas. She cites a scientific paper (by Boyles et al. 2011) when she explains that insects can spread fungi destructive to crops and that insect-eating bats can save the agricultural industry $3.7 billion per year.

She adds that some bats like Indiana bats increase their intake of mosquitoes during the breeding period, and that supporting maternity colonies with bat boxes helps reduce numbers of the pathogen-carrying insects. All of this helps the public understand how bats benefit them and are glad to see their bat neighbors thriving.

To help the Organization for Bat Conservation in their efforts to #Savethebats, please visit their web site.

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