Citizen science suggests NH bats may be starting to recover

0

It’s a sad reality that most wildlife projects for citizen scientists are created to quantify bad news, usually by counting the dwindling numbers of certain plants, animals or insects battling climate change and habitat loss. .

So let’s celebrate the New Hampshire Bats Count project for coming up with what seems like good news, even if it’s just a tiny bit of good news after a decade of disaster.

“There are 5 or 10 sites that have been inspected over the years. 2017 was the first year that there were more than 300 (sites). In 2021, four sites had more than 300,” said Fish and Game biologist Sandi Houghton. She helps oversee the annual Bat Counts project, which asks people to count bats in barns, garages and other structures where the only flying mammal likes to roost.

If it’s true that bat populations are increasing in New Hampshire — although the limitations of citizen science mean we can’t say that for sure — that would be a big change. The fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome (WNS) has devastated bat populations across North America since its outbreak in 2006 and New Hampshire is no exception.

He certainly devastated my property. We used to see bats crawling up the walls of our rotting chicken coop and could watch them fly overhead at dusk, catching insects on the fly, but it’s been years since I haven’t spotted more than one very rare individual passing by.

Haley Andreozzi, wildlife conservation specialist at UNH Cooperative Extension who also manages Bat Counts, said eight species of bats are found in New Hampshire and “all are in decline in one way or another.” another”, either due to WNS or loss of forest habitat.

The Bats Count project is valuable because maternity roosts, where bats raise families in early summer, are usually found on private property in barns or other buildings. “We can’t know where they exist, or what our bat population is” unless people tell them, Andreozzi said.

Even though Bats Count cannot provide a systematic survey, it can still be very helpful to conservation efforts.

“You can try to see what’s special about the sites where you see bigger (populations), where the bats are bouncing around. …Is there a certain style of barn, bat house, or feature that we can try to replicate on the landscape in other places? she says.

Five species of bats migrate through New Hampshire while three species – the Lesser Brown Bat, the Greater Brown Bat and the Eastern Bat – remain here during the winters. They usually hibernate in mines because the geology of New Hampshire means we don’t have many caves. In the summer, they usually roost in buildings, but hopefully not sneaking into your attic.

Winter counts by UNH researchers using the mark-recapture method (if you are unfamiliar with that term, you should research it; careful calculations are needed) have suggested that populations of these hibernating bats have at least bottomed out and may be starting to recover from the WNS calamity.

“Last winter…we had several sites where we saw an individual or individuals of a species that we hadn’t seen in a decade. It’s not hundreds, but it’s something, a small encouraging sign,” Houghton said.

Small, indeed. Houghton noted that a hibernaculum, the cool term for a place where bats hibernate, had 3 little brown bats. That’s a big improvement from zero seen in recent years – hooray! – until you realize that before SMB, the number was around 2,000.

So it’s not like we can claim victory in our efforts to save these important beasts.

Houghton said there are indications across the country that other populations may be recovering, although it’s unclear how big that is and whether it’s due to the bats’ changing habits. mice or the development of resistance.

“The numbers remain low – but there are tiny little glimmers of potential hope,” Houghton said.

The Bat Count project asks volunteers to monitor summer bat colonies in New Hampshire, which takes about an hour and a half starting half an hour before dusk, doing at least a count in June and a count in July. For more information, see the website: https://wildlife.state.nh.us/surveys/bats.html

Share.

Comments are closed.