Implementing the North American Bat Monitoring Program Through Citizen Science in Nebraska
Bats are incredibly important to both ecosystems and humans. Their significance is demonstrated through the ecosystem services they provide, which include seed dispersal, pollination, and insect population control. Within states whose economy is largely dependent on agriculture, such as Nebraska, ecosystem services provided by bats are of particular significance. Pest control services from bats are valued between $3.7 and $53 billion dollars each year in savings for the agricultural industry. This is largely because bats are voracious predators of nocturnal insects, including significant agricultural and forest ecosystem pests.
Only a handful of scientists have done extensive research on the bats of Nebraska. Those who have been working in the state have provided valuable information, but gaps of knowledge do exist in the state. With a majority of the work that has been done being focused on netting-based data collection, the state could benefit from a wide scale acoustic analysis of all of the species present. This is especially important now given the impending impacts of wind turbines and White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) that have the potential to negatively affect the bats of Nebraska. The more we are able to understand how the bats of Nebraska live within the landscape the better prepared we will be able to protect their habitat, lower the impacts of WNS, and wind energy development.
GoalsThe North American Bat program (NABat) is a national protocol designed to streamline data collection and encourage collaboration across ecoregions in order to allow for broad understanding of bat ecology, populations, and habitat usage. This project used NABat to study the full range of bats found in the state of Nebraska, determining the habitat characteristics that influence bat presence and absence across Nebraska using a combination of stationary and mobile ultrasound acoustic detectors. A secondary focus of the project will be to determine the ability of mobile transects to detect shifts in bat population trends. The combined use of stationary points and mobile transects establish a framework for determining the distribution of bat species across the state.
The Nebraska NABat Implementation Project has been largely successful over the past year. Completion of the 2016 field season resulted in us surpassing our target number for sites and driving transects. Through the winter, we began working diligently to analyze data and setup personalized materials for landowners. Each landowner received a packet of information giving them detailed information about the project, the benefits bats provide for humans, and the threats facing them in Nebraska today. We were also able to inform each landowner of the specific species we recorded on their property. This summer, citizen scientists collected data in an effort to increase public knowledge of, and involvement in, the study of bat species in Nebraska. Through various outreach programs, contacts from conferences, and with help from the Master Naturalist program we have been able to acquire 14 volunteers to help with NABat surveys. In addition to its use in monitoring and habitat analysis, this study will assess the effectiveness of the NABat program in Nebraska, including an estimate of the time and financial investments required to continue monitoring bat populations in Nebraska.