Parks echoes call for more bat research
Bat buffs will soon have a vesper’s-eye view into one of Jasper National Park’s rarely-seen residents.
Parks Canada is preparing to launch its newest piece of interpretive technology to the public: a bat-cam. The camera will showcase a roost where currently more than 40 long-legged myotis, one of eight different bat species in Jasper, make their home.
“Since the beginning of May the numbers have been building,” said bat expert and Parks Canada biologist, Greg Horne.
The long-legged myotis is a species of the vesper bat. Even though Jasper scientists have identified a wide diversity of species of bats in the park, because of their nocturnal nature, it is very hard to make accurate population estimates.
“Given their elusive nature, there’s no way you can say what the numbers are with passive monitoring,” Horne said.
To help fill that gap, last year, for the first time, Horne and his colleagues performed mobile monitoring. Using acoustic detectors attached to a vehicle, biologists could get a sense of bats’ relative abundance in certain areas of the park. Still, for any sort of trend to be identified, there needs to be much more data collected.
“Over time you can see if populations are stable, declining or increasing and make an extrapolation,” Horne said.
Until last year, very little studies on bats had been done in Jasper National Park. The fact that the web-winged mammals are now getting their day in the sun, so to speak, is because in other regions, bats are declining at an alarming rate. White nose syndrome, a fungus which is killing bats all across eastern Canada, has spurred interest within Parks Canada, provincial governments and other land manager agencies to allocate resources to research.
White nose syndrome was first noticed in 2006 when bats were spotted flying around in the middle of winter. Normally they would be deep in hibernation; scientists determined something was causing the bats to wake up and become agitated.
It was discovered that a fungus—which has since been tracked as having come from Europe—was growing on bats’ noses, to the point where the bats would wake up from hibernation to clean themselves.
“The extra time and effort they need to deal with this fungus is not in their energy budget,” Horne explained. “They end up depleting all of their fat reserves.”
So far, the disease has not been reported west of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Speculation is that the prairies could act as a barrier. But the same species of bats which have been affected in the east (more than 5 million bats died as a result of the disease since it was discovered) are present in Jasper.
“We’re bracing ourselves [for the disease to show up in Jasper],” Horne said.
In the meantime, Parks Canada wants to learn as much as they can about bats, which is why Horne will spend some of his own energy this summer getting a sense of bats’ relative abundance in Jasper National Park, and why the agency wants to give bats a bit of a wider profile with interpretive initiatives such as the bat-cam.
“It’s for monitoring and research but it’s also for public awareness,” Horne said.
Stay tuned to The Jasper Local to find out when the bat cam goes live.