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Public invited to help scientists study bat behavior

  • Author: Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

Arizona BatWatch project created by education coordinator of Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning

Bats play an important role in the ecosystem. Yet, scientists know relatively little about their behaviors in the wild. Arizona BatWatch is a new, National Science Foundation-funded, citizen science project designed to help scientists study bat behaviors around a roost.

Arizona BatWatch (www.ArizonaBatWatch.org) launched Wednesday morning (Oct. 19), just in time for National Bat Week on Oct. 24-31.

Lesser long-nosed bats are endangered species that pollinate agave and southwestern columnar cacti. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services)

Lesser long-nosed bats are endangered species that pollinate agave and southwestern columnar cacti. Arizona BatWatch, a National Science Foundation-funded, citizen science project, launched Oct. 19. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services)

“It is hard to study bat behaviors in the wild because bats are small, nocturnal, and easily disturbed,” said Shannon Trimboli, the creator of Arizona BatWatch and Education Coordinator of the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning, a partnership between WKU and Mammoth Cave National Park.

“Recent advances in technology have made it easier to study bats in the wild through the use of near-infrared video cameras that can record bat behaviors without a person being present. However, a single study can create many thousands of hours of video which someone has to watch and classify.”

“Traditionally a single scientist and his or her team of one or two assistants would watch and classify all of the videos,” said Trimboli. “With so few people working on the videos, it would take a very long time to go through all the videos. Later, if another scientist wanted to use the same videos to study a different set of behaviors, the new scientist would have to repeat the process to identify the new set of behaviors.”

According to Trimboli, Arizona BatWatch uses citizen science to solve this problem. Participants in Arizona BatWatch watch archived videos of endangered, lesser long-nosed bats flying around a roost in Arizona. As they watch the videos, they identify the behaviors they see. With so many people watching the videos, the behaviors on the videos will be identified much faster than a single scientist and his or her team could do by themselves. Also, once the videos are classified anyone can use them without having to re-watch and re-classify the entire set of videos.

“Citizen science creates partnerships between the public and researchers working on large, scientific studies. These partnerships can lead to valuable scientific contributions,” said Dr. Cathleen Webb, Associate Dean for Research in WKU’s Ogden College of Science and Engineering.

“Citizen science can also profoundly influence the communication of science at the most fundamental levels by igniting a passion for discovery through hands-on, active, participation as a research partner,” Dr. Webb said. “At WKU, we value these accomplishments and strive to actively engage people in research and educational opportunities.”

In addition to the opportunity to participate in the research, the Arizona BatWatch website also includes educational opportunities. The website contains detailed information about the project, lesser long-nosed bats, bats in general, and the data being collected. It also includes discussion boards where participants can ask questions and share their findings.

“Everyone is invited to participate in Arizona BatWatch,” Trimboli said. “It is a great way to celebrate National Bat Week and to help scientists learn more about bats.”

The bats in the videos on the Arizona BatWatch website are lesser long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris curasoae). Lesser long-nosed bats are an endangered species of bat that lives in Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico. It is a pollinator and feeds on the nectar and pollen of agave and columnar cacti. Lesser long-nosed bats are endangered primarily due to habitat destruction and human disturbances at roost sites.

Arizona BatWatch was funded through a National Science Foundation grant (1223908). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

More: Arizona BatWatch on Facebook; Arizona BatWatch blog.

The Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning is a partnership between WKU and Mammoth Cave National Park. At WKU, it is housed within the Dean’s Office of Ogden College of Science and Engineering.

For information about the project, contact Shannon Trimboli, Education Coordinator of the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning, (270) 758-2422 or shannon.trimboli@wku.edu

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 Last Modified 4/24/18