USFWS Provides Funding in Support of Monitoring and Communication

USFWS Provides Funding in Support of Monitoring and Communication

White-nose Syndrome (WNS) is a rapidly spreading disease causing high mortality rates in North American bats, with the disease confirmed in 39 states and eight Canadian provinces as of February 2022. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service), in partnership with WMI, recently funded a small grant program in support of projects that focused on monitoring bat diversity and abundance and/or education and engagement of the public in conservation of bats.

Hibernating Indiana bats

The North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat) was established through the action of the Conservation and Recovery Working Group of the WNS national response effort to assess the status and trends of bat populations at local to range-wide scales. Through NABat, monitoring efforts provide reliable, comparable data across management jurisdictions and support effective conservation decision-making for bats across the continent. In support of NABat and to assist with bat population monitoring efforts in North America, the Service made funding available for equipment and supplies purchases to conduct acoustic monitoring, technology assisted colony counts, and other devices for monitoring bat diversity and abundance.

The Communications and Outreach Working Group of the WNS national response has developed key messages and coordinated approaches to educating the public and engaging them in conservation of bats. Such outreach is conducted through a variety of analog and digital media that present common themes about the national response to WNS in places such as classrooms, parks, Refuges, and other areas people may encounter bats and their habitats. In support of these goals, the Service made funding available for the purchase of printed materials, signage, kiosks, and other outreach materials that support efforts to inform the public about bats.

The Service committed $140,000 for this 2022 Request for Proposals. Thirty-five proposals were received, and nine proposals were accepted that focus on monitoring, communications, or both. A summary of each selected proposal follows.

  • CaveSim LLC provides a mobile cave that can be used at schools, public events, National Parks, museums, and other venues. At each event, children and adults explore 60 feet of passages containing artificial bats, other biota, artificial indigenous artifacts, rock art, and speleothems. The exhibit is not Virtual Reality. Participants are instructed to explore the cave carefully, and receive a computerized score based on how successfully they avoid disturbing the bats and other objects. Because it is difficult to avoid bothering the artificial bats, CaveSim guides talk with participants after they exit the cave about why it is crucial to avoid harming bats. Funding from this program will support the creation of a second mobile cave.
  • WNS has not yet reached Florida, but winter monitoring data collected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) indicate WNS may already be indirectly impacting populations here. Three of Florida’s 13 resident bat species are considered cave dependent (gray bat (MYGR), southeastern myotis (MYAU), and tri-colored bat (PESU)) and susceptible to WNS. Acoustic monitoring data are collected and combined with data collected for Florida’s Long-term Bat Monitoring Project (LTBMP) to monitor the impacts of WNS. Another important goal is to maintain and expand communication with partners and the public for greater awareness of WNS and impacts from the disease to bat populations. Funding from this program supports both the acoustic monitoring equipment and communication and outreach tools.
  • Since 2017, the Montana Natural Heritage Program (MTNHP) has collected short-term fixed-point acoustic data following NABat protocols prioritized by the NABat sampling grid. Funds from this program were requested to standardize the equipment and support MTNHP’s ability to conduct NABat surveys in Montana. During the 2022 field season, MTNHP has entered into an agreement with the USFS to survey 10 grid cells (40 sites) on USFS lands during July and will also make the detectors available to partners to support NABat surveys. These data will allow calculation of trend in occupancy for tree-roosting bat species including Hoary Bat and Eastern Red Bat that are threatened by mortality at wind energy sites.
  • Mystery Cave and the Soudan Iron Mine have served as the largest bat hibernacula in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been actively monitoring bat populations in both locations for several decades, with comprehensive visual counts approximately every five years in addition to an annual census at key locations. With support from this program, MN DNR will install Apodemus electronic beam break bat counters in front of the door spaces and one set of cinder block holes (while blocking off the remaining holes). Because the counter works directionally, they will be able to accurately determine the number of bats that enter and leave the cave. These counters will provide valuable data to help monitor the state of current bat populations over time and determine if numbers are rising, falling, or remaining stable.
  • The Colorado Department of Natural Resources requested funding to support a 2-year assessment to determine where arid climate bats such as those commonly found on the Colorado Plateau, including Colorado National Monument (COLM), migrate to overwinter and whether they are roosting in conditions that may promote transmission of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) and infection of WNS. The project involves capture and tagging of Myotis yumanensis in and around COLM in late summer and early autumn with relocation documented via telemetry. In addition to radiotracking, the project is collecting microclimate data at roosts and acoustic data to investigate winter bat activity at COLM. Collection of microclimate data will inform managers on the suitability of roosts for Pd establishment and growth. Acoustic records in winter will provide additional insight as to the occurrence of these vulnerable species in the study area during the hibernation period and prior to the occurrence of WNS.
  • Colorado State University has been monitoring maternity colonies and day roosts in northwestern Colorado for seven years and has developed baseline estimates of abundance and survival. The University requested funding to support similar long-term monitoring studies in western (Pinedale), central (Shoshoni), and eastern Wyoming (Fort Laramie National Historic Site) to understand little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) population parameters in advance of WNS. The eastern Wyoming site is a location where Pseudogymnoascus destructans has been documented, and population monitoring may clarify what impacts this population may be experiencing. At Fort Laramie, they will study population persistence at human-created habitat. They will monitor little brown bat populations at an existing bat condominium and assess how little brown bats use a newly-installed bat “condominium” nearby. Assessing bat use of large bat houses can elucidate how human-built bat habitat may or may not provide adequate roosting resources for little brown bats. Additionally, these Wyoming sites are at one of the western edges of WNS progress, making population monitoring at these locations an “early-warning” system should the disease move through Wyoming and toward other western states.
  • Lucky Peak State Park (LPSP) is within 8 miles of the city of Boise and has the potential to impact large and diverse communities. The park has partnerships with local school districts, volunteer conservation groups, girl scouts, immigrant, and refugee communities, and a mission to provide the community with opportunities to connect with their natural resources. Their bat education and monitoring program advances the efforts of the WNS National Plan and Working Group Implementation Plans. The park will be offering free, public bat education nights throughout the summer season at LPSP. The bat nights will have hands on activities that communicate the importance of bats to people, ecosystems, biodiversity, and economies. The activities will also educate about the threats bats face, including WNS, and how the public can help protect bat habitat and populations. The main objective is to change negative perceptions around bats and provide information to create a personal connection and value to the public. The park requested funding to obtain acoustic monitoring systems that engage and create a personal and memorable experience for the public. These systems will not only provide an immersive audio interaction with bats for the public but allow for LPSP to contribute data on bat diversity and abundance to NABat in Idaho.
  • The Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship in British Columbia seeks to develop a protocol to easily monitor the proportion of each species in mixed-species roosts, to support population modeling using colony count data. Currently, the main barrier for modeling with the data is their inability to reliably estimate the ratio of each species in our emergence counts. Developing this protocol and determining the ratio of species will increase the utility of their data submissions to NABat and support utilization of summer colony data from mixed building roosts across western US states and provinces in local, regional, and continental analyses. This will directly contribute to the efforts of the WNS National Plan and Working Group Implementation Plans including work on standardizing data collection, integrating existing data (multi-year BC bat counts), population modeling, and investigation of species and population differences in severity of WNS. Funding from this program supports the project through purchase of bat detectors, SEEK thermal imaging cameras, and shipping boxes (to move equipment among study sites and ship genetic samples for analysis).
  • With the rarity of Maine’s bats, the continued threat of WNS, and the emerging threats of climate change and increasing energy development, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has a priority to continue monitoring bat distribution and abundance. A long-term statewide monitoring plan is currently in development to monitor 300 stationary sites across the state. As time and MDIFW’s acoustic equipment inventory allow, additional sites will be surveyed, with an emphasis on habitats that are conducive to occupancy of their rarest species (i.e., tri-colored, northern long-eared, and eastern small-footed bats), under-surveyed areas, and priority NABat grid cells. The equipment purchased through funding from this program will support these monitoring goals and will be used to enhance educational programs across the state.
Photo Credit
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, Flickr
July 15, 2022