Glacier’s Bats: An Adventure in Bat Research

[MUSIC PLAYING] Glacier National Park is
comprised of pristine habitats. It’s known for its grizzly
bears, its moose, its mountain goats. What a lot of people don’t
know are all the bats that live here also. And Glacier provides
incredible habitats for a number of bat species. And, right now, with white-nose
looming on the horizon, they’re at risk of
their populations being decimated here in the park. [MUSIC PLAYING] White-nose syndrome is caused
by a cold-loving fungus that affects bats
during hibernation. It was first found in a
cave in New York in 2006. And the bats had no natural
immunity against it. It has decimated up
to 6 to 7 million bats in eastern North America. Since 2006, white-nose
syndrome has spread rapidly. It’s only a matter of time
before white-nose syndrome arrives here in
Glacier National Park. [MUSIC PLAYING] One of our main goals here
in Glacier National Park is to do a complete
inventory of the bat species. And to do that, we’ve overlaid
a 10-square-kilometer grid across Glacier. Our goal is to survey in
each of those grid cells. [MUSIC PLAYING] Certain species
forage over water. Certain forage in the forest. So we have different
types of nets depending on what species
we’re trying to target. We’re really lucky to have just
an amazing team of volunteers and staff that can really
assist in that effort. [MUSIC PLAYING] The first thing I look at
when we’re processing a bat is what species. We look to see if it has a keel
on the uropatagium, or the tail. And if it does, it sends
it into one category. If not, we know we’re
looking at something else. You look at the ears. If it has big ears, you know
you have a long-eared bat. We measure the forearm length. That’s really indicative
of what species. We look at what gender. We look at overall health. We always record
if we see scarring on the wings or any holes
or mites, parasites, bed bugs, things like that. It’s a real adventure doing
bat surveys in Glacier National Park, which it really is,
because you never know what you’re going to encounter. A cow moose and her calf just
walked through one of our nets. So they’re probably–
if not totally trashed, they’re at least knocked down. We’ll have to go reset them
and see what they’re like. It is an adventure surveying for
bats in Glacier National Park. And that’s one of the
best parts of this job. Whoa. One of our main tools
to assess the impacts of white-nose syndrome
once it arrives here is to conduct
emergence counts. The little brown bat
is most susceptible to white-nose syndrome. And it is also the
most likely one to roost in human structures. We are going to
do a bat emergence count at this building. It is the car wash building. A little after the
sunset, we expect to see our first bats come out. And, usually, they’ll come
out slowly, and then– bam, bam, bam–
if there’s a lot of them. So, right now, some of our
roost sites here in Glacier have hundreds, and one site
exceeds a thousand bats, emerging at night. And once white-nose
arrives here, we really expect to see a
dramatic drop in those numbers. [MUSIC PLAYING] We can’t be positive about the
impacts of white-nose syndrome on the ecosystems of
Glacier National Park. We can make some
educated guesses though. We would predict that we would
see a reduction in species like owls and hawks
that prey upon bats, also some of the small
mammals that find roost sites. I think one of the most
serious ecological consequences of white-nose arriving is
greater insect numbers. Bats provide a really
strong biological control for many of the insects here
in the park that kill trees. So we expect that we
would see more red trees in the park, which makes
our landscapes more prone to large wildfires. The main impetus for initiating
the Glacier bat inventory and monitoring
program was to collect baseline data pre-white-nose
syndrome arrival. We literally knew nothing
about bats here in Glacier. And, yes, we could have
chosen not to do surveys and not to learn
anything about our bats. But then, once
white-nose arrives, there is no way
that we could assess the impacts of the
disease on bat populations here in Glacier. [MUSIC PLAYING] OK. Are we up there? [MUSIC PLAYING]

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