iBats continues to spread its wings
Sunday 10 August 2008
Bats are a vital part of our native wildlife, accounting for almost a third of all mammal species found in the UK. However, they are facing an uncertain future with the continued threats from global warming and increasing human population pressures.
Found throughout urban areas, farmland, woodland and river/lake systems, the pressures bats face, such as landscape change, agricultural intensification, development and habitat fragmentation, are also relevant to many other wildlife species.
This makes bats an excellent indicator for the wider health of wildlife in the UK. Thus, monitoring bat populations is critical to both inform and influence conservation policy and ensure resources are directed to where they are most needed.
iBats was set up in 2006 by ZSL, in association with the Bat Conservation Trust, and is funded by the Darwin Initiative. The aim of the project is to generate long-term data on how bat populations are faring throughout the world.
Dr Kate Jones, ZSL Project Manager, explained, 'Bat census information is a fantastic conservation resource, as some bats thrive in conserved, intact environments, and others decline dramatically as their habitats are degraded. So finding out how bat populations are changing is a useful indicator of the health of the environment. It will also provide a sensitive measure of effects of climate change on wildlife across the world.'
The Bat Conservation Trust has a network of thousands of volunteers in the UK who monitor bats on foot using special detectors designed to pick up the high frequency 'echolocation' calls bats use to forage for food at night.
However, taking the project global was a much more logistically demanding challenge, thus came the invention of the 'batmobile', a car fitted with a detector allowing calls to be recorded over large distances. Repeat surveying of identical transects over time produces population trend data that can be used to monitor bat biodiversity and the impact of global change.
iBats now runs projects in a number of Eastern European countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Croatia), as well as New York, Mongolia, Mexico and Zambia, and most recently Thailand, where monitoring is being used to track populations of the endangered bumblebee bat.
The bumblebee bat is in the top 100 Edge of Existence (EDGE) mammal species and surveys are urgently required to locate colonies of these bats and protect them from further human disturbance.
'Bumblebee bats have very distinctive calls and acoustic car surveys are an easy way to monitor populations and locate new important areas for these tiny bats,'added Kate Jones.
If you are interested in helping to monitor bats, please register at www.ibats.org.uk