A Community Effort to Monitor Chicago’s Bats
Since 2018, the Urban Wildlife Institute has partnered with local volunteers on a community science project to monitor bat species activity in Chicago.
Since 2018, the Urban Wildlife Institute has partnered with local volunteers on a community science project to monitor bat species activity in Chicago. Bats use ultrasonic (higher than human hearing) echolocation to navigate their environment. One method to study bats is to record those calls, which are unique to each species. As part of a region-wide collaboration among several conservation organizations, community scientists collect bat acoustic data using a standardized protocol that consists of walking with an iPad and ultrasonic microphone on set paths (transects) that traverse key urban habitats, such as city parks, cemeteries, golf courses, forest preserves, and residential areas. These data provide zoo researchers with invaluable species-specific information about where bats are and aren’t living in the city while volunteers learn about local bat ecology, acoustic monitoring, and bat call identification.
Why Study Bats?
Bats are facing many threats, such as white-nose syndrome, a devastating fungal pathogen that has a more than 90 percent mortality for some species. At the same time, urbanization continues to expand, increasing the amount of human-altered habitat and overlap between humans and bats, which can lead to conflict. Bats are a critical part of the ecosystem; each bat is estimated to eat more than 1,200 insects in a single night. And although bats are known to inhabit urban areas, we know very little about what habitat factors influence their distributions in cities.
To make cities more friendly to bats, researchers need more information about how bats are using urban habitat at more locations. With the help of community scientists, the Urban Wildlife Institute can monitor for bats at more locations than ever before, and contribute data to a regionwide monitoring effort.