We’ve just landed in North America for the next stop of the Bat Detective World Tour! We’ve spent the last couple of months in the rather warmer climes of sub-Saharan Africa, asking for your help in listening for bat calls in data from Ghana and Zambia. Since the start of the World Tour you’ve listened to over 10511 unique audio clips and classified bats and insects in nearly 2000 of those, labels which will help to make our bat detection algorithms more accurate and robust. You can learn more about how your efforts are contributing to our research and bat population monitoring here, and keep an eye on the blog for future updates about how your work is further improving our automated bat detection software.
Following our time in Africa, we’ve now jetted across the Atlantic to arrive in New York, U.S.A. As of this morning we’ve uploaded a fresh set of audio data to Bat Detective, so visit the Bat Detective site right now to start searching and classifying. These data were recorded by iBats volunteers during surveys both within New York City itself as well as elsewhere in New York State. They cover a variety of urban and non-urban locations, including Central Park in Manhattan, Forest Park in Queens, Pelham Bay Park and Bronx Zoo, as well as Black Rock Forest, a 3,838-acre area of forest specially managed for maintenance of varied habitats and high species diversity. You can see the survey locations on the map below.
With its temperate climate, New York lacks the very high species diversity of tropical regions, meaning that the sonic variation and insect noise in these recordings is often lower than in our recent African data. But there are plenty of fascinating bats to be heard. While listening through the data you might encounter any of several bat species found in this region and adapted to its seasonal climate. These include cave and mine-roosting species such as the abundant little brown bat and its larger relative the big brown bat, as well as the Eastern pipistrelle – a cousin of the well-known pipistrelle species you might have encountered in our European recordings – and the large, handsome Hoary bat (pictured below), whose range stretches throughout North and South America.
Bat conservation is currently an important topic in North America, mainly due to the ongoing spread of the deadly fungal disease white nose syndrome (WNS), which has caused large bat population declines in the northeastern US. Named after the furry white fungal mass often seen coating the muzzles and wings of affected individuals, WNS infects hibernating species such as little brown bats during the winter months, and is estimated to have killed over 6 million bats since it was first identified in New York in 2006. Research and conservation activities are ongoing to understand and attempt to contain the spread of WNS, and in response the United States, Canada and Mexico signed an agreement in 2015 to improve co-ordination of bat conservation responses across all three countries.
More broadly, infectious disease of wildlife is a serious and growing conservation threat to multiple species groups. The emergence of white nose syndrome in bats, for example, has parallels with the rapid spread of the amphibian fungal disease chytridiomycosis over the last two decades, which has driven massive declines and even extinctions in global amphibian populations. With most bat species difficult to monitor due to their nocturnal and elusive lifestyles, these challenges further emphasise the need for new tools and technologies to help researchers better understand the impacts of threats such as disease on bat populations – efforts we hope will be assisted by the automated softwares we’re currently developing with your assistance.
We hope you enjoy listening for bat calls in our New York data during this latest stage of the Bat Detective World Tour – click here to start searching. As ever, if you’re unsure about whether a call you’ve heard is a bat or not – or even just want to flag up something unusual or interesting you’ve discovered – click through to the Talk section, where you can discuss it with other citizen scientists and our own researchers.