The “Caped Crusader” in All of Us: Using Citizen Science to Understand Bat Populations

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Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinerus), male” by J. N. Stuart is licenses under CC 2.0

Everyone knows DC Comic’s infamous “Caped Crusader” Batman as one of America’s most beloved superheroes. Although he does not possess any supernatural powers like many other comparable vigilantes, he uses what privileges and resources he has to save Gotham from the threats of evil. Batman’s efforts to protect the city he loves is comparable to the work local volunteers can make to preserve the wildlife in their region, one of the least thought over animals being bats. The preservation of bats could be furthered with the adoption of using volunteers to aid modern research projects.

Public participation in understanding bat species within places like Texas should be a matter of great importance. Texas houses about 10 major bat colonies with one, the Bracken Cave, breeding the largest colony of bats in the world. With such large bat populations, ecologist will need a lot of help collecting data for the millions of bats who reside in bat dense locations like the Texas caves. Citizen scientific research could be extremely beneficial to ecological research for the community. Benefits include increased community awareness on bat ecosystems, more detailed data for researchers, and more effective initiatives to manage the development of the bat population by law makers.

In a new study in the Journal of Biological Conservation, Dr. Stuart Newson of the British Trust for Ornithology used large scale volunteer-based bat recordings to better understand species distribution and abundance of different bat species. The study, that took place in Norfolk, England, used the Norfolk Bat Survey to allow everyday citizens to access passive real-time bat detectors. The residents could place the bat detectors in any place of their choice within Norfolk. These devices recorded the signal of each bat that passed by the detectors. As a community the Norfolk citizen acted together by participating in public scientific research. This happened to be a goal of Dr. Stuart Newson, who believed this “could feed into local conservation action plans and policy decisions… and increase community interest and involvement in bat monitoring” (Newson, 2014)

Collaborative community science projects such as the one in Norfolk can serve as a prototype for citizen science data analysis. An article in the Journal of Mammalogy by Dr. M. B. Fenton with Carleton University mentioned they searched 15 years for the L.cinereus species of bat. Although the researchers founded the L.cinereus species abundantly through echolocation, they could never capture them. I propose with the help of citizens in the area, the researchers could capture and study of the L.cinereus species with a quicker time frame. Imagine the amount of discoveries they could have made if they captured a rare species of bat. Additionally, the tremendous amount of time and resources they could have saved.

Although citizen science data is great for research projects, there can be errors and bias due to the variability in ability, experience, and type of training with the citizens aiding in projects. Though these concerns are valid, I feel researchers can utilize intense screening to filter out highly erroneous data. I also suggest researchers develop a strict training program for the citizens who want to take part of the study. This idea was shown in a study published in Biological Conservation by Dr. K. E. Barlow of Bat Conservation Trust. The authors recognizes data collection from citizen science can lead to quality and sampling bias. They stress “training of volunteers and use of standardized methods have been identified as crucial to the success of volunteer surveys” (Barlow et al., 2015).

The beauty of citizen science lies in the fact that anyone can take part of science. For the many bat colonies that exist amongst human populations, citizen science can further the involvement to protect and keep the public aware of bat ecology. Furthermore, the scientist that educate the world on the bat population can use the data gathered by citizens to push lawmakers to do something about our little winged friends. With citizen science anyone can be that beloved superhero for the bat species in their area.

Literature Cited

Barlow, K. E., Briggs, P. A., Haysom, K. A., Hutson, A. M., Lechiara, N. L., Racey, P. A., … & Langton, S. D. (2015). Citizen science reveals trends in bat populations: The national bat monitoring programme in Great Britain. Biological Conservation182, 14-26.

Fenton, M. B., Tennant, D. C., & Wyszecki, J. (1987). Using echolocation calls to measure the distribution of bats: the case of Euderma maculatum. Journal of Mammalogy, 142-144.

Newson, S. E., Evans, H. E., & Gillings, S. (2015). A novel citizen science approach for large-scale standardised monitoring of bat activity and distribution, evaluated in eastern EnglandBiological Conservation191, 38-49.

Newson, Stuart E.. (2014, June 13) The Norfolk Bat Survey – Dr Stuart Newson (BTO) . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzCfbO6BU2I

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This entry was posted in Conservation Biology Posts, Conservation Editorials 2015. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The “Caped Crusader” in All of Us: Using Citizen Science to Understand Bat Populations

  1. Although citizen science data is great for research projects, there can be errors and bias due to the variability in ability, experience, and type of training with the citizens aiding in projects. Though these concerns are valid, I feel researchers can utilize intense screening to filter out highly erroneous data.

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