Wild bats hanging from a wooden ceiling

Using Feces to Monitor Urban Bat Health

Wild bats hanging from a wooden ceiling

Purpose

Lincoln Park Zoo researchers are working to understand what stresses bats in their habitat by measuring hormones in their poop, or “guano.”

About

Urban wildlife live among many stressors from both natural- and human-associated sources. Measuring stress hormone production in urban wildlife can help researchers understand how these environmental pressures directly impact bat health. While brief periods of stress are natural and not detrimental, long-term stress can suppress the immune system and drain body resources, such as fat and muscle. This has the potential to make individuals more susceptible to diseases, such as white-nose syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans; WNS), that have caused major declines in bat species across North America. By investigating how these environmental pressures are impacting the health and success of urban bats around Chicago, researchers can make recommendations to wildlife managers on how to maintain a healthy habitat for urban bats.

As part of the health and stress of urban wildlife initiative, the Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology has developed a way to non-invasively evaluate stress levels in wild bats. Researchers place trays under active bat roosts overnight to passively collect guano (bat poop), when is then brought back to the lab for extraction. Investigating factors—such as roost type, season, and level of human activity—can help scientists determine critical components affecting bat health that can be incorporated into land-management plans.

Bats provide an important ecosystem service as nature’s pest control; each bat can eat thousands of flying insects in a single night. Understanding negative human-induced and natural stressors on bat health can help researchers mitigate the effects of the deadly fungus causing white-nose syndrome.

Share Your Bat Sightings

Scientists at Lincoln Park Zoo are sending up the bat signal! They’re looking for your help to find large bat colonies in the area to expand their study. Send your bat photos, stories, questions, tips, and suspected roost locations to batsignal@lpzoo.org.

Staff

Rachel Santymire, Ph.D.
Director
Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology
Kim Fake, M.S.
Wildlife Research Coordinator
Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology; Urban Wildlife Institute
Matt Mulligan, M.S.
Adjunct Scientist
Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology; Urban Wildlife Institute