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Researchers asking for public’s help to collect data on bats

Conservation groups in B.C. are asking the public for help gathering information on bat populations in the province. - CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
Conservation groups in B.C. are asking the public for help gathering information on bat populations in the province.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Researchers are relying on the public to help get a handle on Vancouver Island’s bat populations and roosting sites.

Information about the animals is being gathered to form a data baseline ahead of white fungus syndrome appearing on Vancouver Island, which is expected within 10 years. White fungus syndrome is a disease which, in Eastern Canada, has brought the most common species, the little brown bat, to the brink of extinction.

The Bat Community Programs of B.C. has started Got Bats?, a provincewide bat count done in partnership with the Environment Ministry and Victoria-based Habitat Acquisition Trust.

B.C. is home to more bat varieties than any Canadian province. Of Canada’s 19 species, 16 live in B.C. and 11 of those live on the Island.

“What they’re trying to do is identify roost sites for these species-at-risk, especially,” said Trudy Chatwin, Nanaimo-based species-at-risk biologist. “About half of the 16 species found in B.C. are at risk of extinction, threatened or sensitive in some regard, so we’re trying to … engage people in doing the baseline count now, because we don’t have white nose syndrome now.”

Little is known about white nose syndrome, where it originated or how it kills bats.

“We need to know where these colonies are and how many bats are in them,” said Adam Taylor, executive director of the Habitat Acquisition Trust.

What makes bat populations so vulnerable is that, unlike rodents, bats don’t produce big litters.

“They’re not even closely related to rodents,” Taylor said. “A little brown bat will have a life span of 20 to 30 years and it will only have one baby a year, so this is a big problem when we evict bat colonies.”

A low reproduction rate means a colony, damaged by disease or habitat loss, could take many years to recover.

Bats benefit agriculture because of their voracious appetite for insects. One little brown bat will catch and consume about 1,000 mosquitoes per hour.

“The amount of economic benefit bats provide to agriculture in North America is between $7 billion and $50 billion per year, so we lose bats and a lot of our agricultural areas are going to use a lot more pesticides,” Taylor said. “Not only does that cost money, but that has health and environmental impacts as well.”

Please visit http://hat.bc.ca.

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