Pukaskwa is all ears for bats!
By Sheena Parsons
Bats have experienced severe declines in response to a number of threats. In particular, a disease called White-nose Syndrome has caused widespread bat mortality. This disease is caused by a fungus that grows around the nose and on the wings of hibernating bats. It causes bats to wake frequently during hibernation, which uses up their fat reserves, and leads to starvation before the spring. Unfortunately, it is not the only threat faced by bats—they are also vulnerable to climate change, pesticides, and wind turbines.
Declining bat populations may be problematic for Pukaskwa because of the value bats have to the forest ecosystem. Bats play a key role in maintaining ecosystem health by eating insect pests, pollinating native plants, and providing food for predators.
We monitor these nocturnal creatures by recording their ultrasonic calls (high-pitched sounds that humans cannot hear) using specialized devices. Our ecology team is talented, but ultrasonic hearing is not in our repertoire! The devices include an ultrasonic microphone and an audio recording unit. The microphone can “hear” ultrasonic bat calls, that are then saved on the recording unit. We install these devices outside, and leave them in place for months at a time. They are programmed to turn on from sunset until sunrise to record calls overnight.
In 2019, we installed microphones and recording devices at six locations in the park, along the coast of Lake Superior. We left the devices from late August until early September. Of the eight bat species in Ontario, five were detected in Pukaskwa: Eastern Red Bat, Hoary Bat, Silver-haired Bat, Big Brown Bat, and Little Brown Myotis (a species at risk). Of the three species that were not detected, two (Tricolored Bat and Eastern Small-footed Myotis) do not live this far north. The last species, Northern Myotis, can survive in this area, so we are optimistic that it may be detected in 2020. We are waiting with anticipation for our 2020 results!
Pukaskwa’s research project supports bat conservation, not only in northern Ontario, but across all of North America. We share our data with a continent-wide initiative called the North American Bat Monitoring Program. This initiative gathers information from scientists, volunteers, and government organizations across Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
You don’t need to be an expert, or have fancy equipment, to protect Ontario’s bats. You can help by spreading the word on social media, reporting bat sightings using iNaturalist, installing a bat box on your property, eliminating the use of pesticides, or making a donation to a bat conservation initiative. Even small actions can help protect bats for generations to come!