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To the BAT Mobile(s)! Volunteers to help monitor Iowa's bat population

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This is a close-up of a bat with fungus in New York in October 2008. The disease has killed most of little brown bats and other bat species in the Northeast and has spread to the Midwest and as far south as Texas. Volunteers are needed to help track local bat populations.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service This is a close-up of a bat with fungus in New York in October 2008. The disease has killed most of little brown bats and other bat species in the Northeast and has spread to the Midwest and as far south as Texas. Volunteers are needed to help track local bat populations.

Volunteers are needed to turn their vehicle into a “Batmobile,” of sorts, to help collect data on the state’s nocturnal flying mammals.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University are seeking volunteers for an annual bat acoustic monitoring survey to see how a spreading disease has impacted Iowa’s nine species of bat.

“It should help us see additional declines in the population numbers, also we’re hoping we’re going to see a recovery,” said Karen Kinkead, wildlife diversity program coordinator with the Iowa DNR.

In 2015, the Iowa DNR’s Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program partnered with ISU to create volunteer survey routes in select counties for the bat acoustic monitoring effort.

The program was created to monitor bat population patterns being impacted by increased cases of white-nose syndrome, a disease that affects hibernating bats.

Caused by a fungus and discovered in North America more than a decade ago, white-nose syndrome has spread rapidly and has been attributed to the death of millions of bats across the country, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

White-nose syndrome was first identified near Albany, N.Y., around 2005, according to the service. It has since spread west and was first discovered in Iowa’s Jackson County around 2011-2012.

As of last year, white-nose syndrome had been identified in six additional counties, including Dubuque, Clayton, Des Moines, Van Buren, Jasper and Webster.

By monitoring bat populations, officials hope to better understand the impacts of the spreading disease.

As of last week, volunteers were sought in Dubuque, Jackson and Clayton counties.

Program participants will mount acoustic recording equipment on the top of their car and drive specific routes. The equipment records bat echolocation calls to identify areas of high bat activity.

Volunteers will work in teams of two — one to drive at about 20 mph and the other to monitor the equipment and direct the driver along the specific route.

Monitoring takes place at night, once in June and again in July.

More information can be found at the Iowa DNR website.

While bats sometimes get a bad rap, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports they contribute around $3.7 billion worth of insect control each year for agriculture.

“They’re nature’s exterminators. They’re a part of the ecosystem,” Kinkead said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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