In the United States bats are the main predator of night flying insects and may help in regeneration of forests through the high concentration of nitrogen in their guano. Bats make up one quarter of all mammal species, but little is known about them as they are difficult to study due to their abilities of flight and activity at night. Nothing is known about if and how bats use oak savannas, a critically imperiled habitat type that exists in small remnants in the Midwestern United States, and very little is known about their use of urban parks. This lack of knowledge is significant, as bats worldwide are on the decline due to habitat loss, human persecution, and recently the onslaught of White Nose Syndrome and the development of wind energy. If bats are to be protected an understanding of their habitat needs is a necessity. This study will investigate the use of urban parks by bats and the relative importance of oak savanna habitats versus wooded areas in the Oak Openings Region of Northwest Ohio. This region is an interesting mix of important and diverse habitat types, including oak savannas, but exists within an urban/suburban setting. The study will utilize technology that makes the ultrasonic vocalizations of bats audible to humans and can be used in determining individual species presence and use of an area.
Broader Impacts: It is a crucial to involve the public in conservation of endangered species, as the more they know, the more likely they are to make decisions to protect that species and its habitat. Another goal of this study is to determine what local residents of the region know about bats as well as their attitudes towards them. The ecological knowledge gained while studying this group of animals will then be used in education and outreach, including participating in data collection through a citizen-science-based project, which should result in behaviors that might positively affect bats.
In the United States bats are the main predator of night flying insects and may help in maintaining healthy forests through the high concentration of nitrogen in their guano. Although bats make up at least a 1/5 of all mammal species very little is known about them and most people fear them. Bats are difficult to study due to their abilities of flight and activity at night. To compound this problem, people often consider them pests and are not interested in protecting their habitat. In the Oak Openings Region of Northwest Ohio little to nothing was known about bats before the onset of this study. Of particular importance is the question of what habitats are needed by the bats. This region is found in the midst of a highly urban area as well as extensive agriculture, but contains a number of habitat types that are considered critically imperiled, including rare oak savanna. With this study we were able to study bats through the use of acoustic devices that can listen in on the high pitched echolocation calls they make when looking for food. In this way, we can identify which species are present and what areas are they using. We were also able to determine what people in the area think of bats and include citizens in the study of these highly important animals. We started by modeling the presence of bats within protected areas of the region. This model was developed by determining where bats were present and then associating that presence with habitat characteristics of where they were found. These models produced maps that predict where important areas are for bats and will add to the larger understanding of bats within urban areas. In addition, these maps can be used by land managers in determining priority areas for conservation. Once we developed the models we were able to use data gathered by citizen scientists (volunteers who collected data used in a scientific investigation) to test our predictions. This provided an effective demonstration of the reliability of the models and allowed us to demonstrate the importance of testing models (a task that is rarely conducted). This approach allowed the local community to learn more about bats and get involved. We also investigated the difference in presence and activity of bats in areas of oak forest and oak savanna. We found that bats are present in both forested and open areas, such as oak savanna, but that these areas may be important for different reasons. To find out what local citizens knew about bats in their area, we developed a survey for the human inhabitants of the Oak Openings Region. We surveyed local homeowners, college students and participants of educational classes offered in partnership with various community organizations. The educational classes gave us the opportunity to share our knowledge about bats in an interactive setting while assessing what the participants knew. The surveys revealed that the more people know about bats the more likely they are to see them favorably. This is important as it indicates that engaging citizens in education, through outreach and citizen science, will change peopleâ€™s perception of bats. Overall, this research has increased our understanding of the needs of bats in this region and engaged the local citizens in learning more about this important group of animals.