This time of year, bats are commonly used to scare up Halloween fun, but Bridgewater State University biology instructor Maria Armour insists these mammals are not to be feared.
“Bats are not scary, blood-sucking, rabies-infested animals, the total opposite is true, they are a very unique order of animals,” she said.
Armour would know, she’s been intrigued by them ever since studying the morphology of bat wings while pursuing her master’s degree in 2001 in New York City.
Her passion followed her to BSU, where students and faculty have been studying bats and other indicator species to help determine the health of local habitats.
Thanks to an external equipment grant from the Massachusetts-based Wildlife Acoustics, Armour and biology Professor Thilina Surasinghe have used acoustic monitoring to observe and record the local wildlife habitat of bats and amphibians.
The data collected from recording devices helps determine how strong a habitat is, based on how much anthropological noise is generated.
“You can learn the health of a habitat based on the presence or absence of the animals that live there,” Surasinghe said.
Since first receiving the grant two years ago, deserving undergraduates have been invited to participate in the research.
This year, senior biology major Mark Hopkins was asked to join the team. Alongside Surasinghe and Amour, he has been trained to use the Wildlife Acoustics equipment to gather and analyze soundscape data.
This past summer, Mark also helped catch and release bats at night on property owned by the university located near Skeeter Mill Pond.
“I feel tremendously lucky to be asked to be on this team,” Mark said. “Before I participated in this I didn’t even know I was interested in ecology.”
The research supports evidence of a decline in the little brown bat, a local species. The bats are succumbing to a fungus called white nose syndrome.
“The fungus was carried over from Europe and has been spreading across the United States,” Armour said. “In 10 years, we could very well see the regional extinction of the little brown.”
Armed with their data, BSU students have traveled to conferences and shared information, even receiving global recognition with their results showcased on the Wildlife Acoustics website.
“Our students have done a great job,” Armour said.
Mark will represent BSU at this spring’s Northeast Natural History Conference.
In the meantime, group members will continue their research and in doing so simultaneously demonstrate how bats are good to have around – and nothing to be frightened of. Even around Halloween.
“From a human aspect, their selling point is they eat insects. They save money because they eat agricultural pests and keep other populations of pests in check,” Armour said. “We need to learn from them instead of discriminating against this group of animals.”
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