Wildfire effects on bats in Waterton Lakes National Park
By: Erin Low, Bat Researcher, University of Calgary
The Kenow Wildfire in 2017 presented the unique opportunity to study the effects of an exceptionally intense wildfire on a variety of species living in Waterton Lakes National Park (WLNP), including bats.
Bats are a cryptic and diverse group of mammals who play important roles in forest ecosystems. Past studies suggest that bats respond positively to fires, which increase foraging and roosting opportunities, but research is limited specifically on extreme natural wildfires.
In 2011 and 2012, Parks Canada conducted a bat inventory in Waterton. Researchers captured bats in mist nets to determine which species were in the park as well as measure the bats’ body condition (forearm length / mass of bat) and reproductive condition (pregnant, lactating, etc.). In 2019, Parks Canada and the University of Calgary began collaborating on a post-fire bat research project. Bats were captured in mist nets and again measured for body and reproductive condition. Female reproductive little brown bats were radio-tracked to their maternity roosts.
Preliminary results suggest that little brown bats make up the majority of the bat community in the park, both pre- and post-fire. The majority of female, radio-tagged little brown bats were tracked to roosts in buildings unaffected by the fire. Unsurprisingly, the body or reproductive condition of female little brown bats appears to be unchanged pre-fire compared to post-fire.
During the summers of 2015 to 2017, acoustic detectors were used throughout the park to record bat echolocation calls. Acoustic detectors were used at the same sites in 2018 and 2019, following the wildfire. The data from these detectors will allow researchers to examine bat abundance, diversity and habitat use. Results are still being analyzed. However, having both pre and post-fire data will shed light on changes to the bat community following the Kenow Wildfire.