Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Bat hunters scan skies for science on little-studied species

 


The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is on the hunt for citizen scientists to track bats in the Chilkat Valley.

“Bats in Alaska are a total mystery,” said Tory Rhoads, wildlife biologist with ADF&G’s Threatened, Endangered & Diversity Program.

From mid-April to October, Haines residents are invited to participate in an acoustic bat monitoring survey to gather data about bat populations and species in Southeast Alaska.

When the monitoring program began in Haines and other five other Southeast communities three years ago, Rhoads said, very little was known about bats in this area. From the data collected, it was determined that six of the seven bat species in Alaska are found in Haines.

Forty-seven bat species are found in the United States of 1,300 worldwide. Bats are the only mammals capable of flight, and can live up to 20 years, according to a Department of Fish and Game presentation Tuesday.

Although bats have functional eyesight, they use echolocation to navigate and hunt at night, while spending the day in a roost. Rhoads said research in Juneau revealed bats often roost in rock crevices where temperature and humidity stay fairly constant.

All Alaskan bats eat insects, including mosquitos, and can catch up to 1,000 per hour.

The high-pitched noises emitted by echolocation, which cannot be heard by the human ear, can be recorded by an acoustic bat monitoring device called an Anabat. The device then converts the sound to something people can hear and creates a patterned sonogram with the data. Rhoads said from the sonogram, biologists can determine with about 60 percent accuracy the species of bat that put out the call.

Last year, 1,700 calls were recorded in Haines.

“Haines and Juneau have the most bats in Southeast,” Rhoads said.

Geographic information included with the acoustic data can help determine regional population, habitat, distribution and migratory patterns, Rhoads said.

Haines participants can drive two routes, one from 31 Mile Haines Highway to the intersection of Main Street and Front Street and the other starting at Chilkoot Lake and ending at the end of Mud Bay Road. The Anabat microphone is attached to the roof of the car by a magnet. The drive must start 45 minutes after sunset as the surveyor drives at 20 miles per hour for the 30-mile-long transect.

Resident Patty Kermoian has volunteered to conduct the survey for the past three years and plans to participate again this year.

“I think there’s a lot of things that go by the wayside that are important in the environment,” Kermoian said. With limited research on the animal in the valley, bats are one of those things, Kermoian said.

The program is partly funded by federal match dollars for volunteer hours, Rhoads said.

Rhoads said bats are often seen in a negative light as pests and disease carriers, but serve an ecological purpose of controlling insect populations, especially important for the agriculture industry.

“White-nose syndrome,” a fuzzy white fungus on the muzzle of bats that causes interruptions in hibernation and eventually starvation, is decimating bat populations on the East Coast. The disease is confirmed in 30 states and five Canadian provinces, killing more than 6.7 million bats since 2006. In March 2016, white nose syndrome “jumped” more than 1,300 miles from Oklahoma to Washington.

Rhoads said biologists on the West Coast are now scrambling to learn as much as they can about bats and come up with management strategies to best control the disease, if and when it makes it to Alaska.

“If we don’t know what species are here to begin with, we won’t know if they die off,” Rhoads said. “There’s no cure (for white-nose syndrome), so our best bet is gaining more knowledge and more data for monitoring.”

A fixed monitor near Klukwan, programmed to turn on at sunset and off at sunrise, records echolocation every night to avoid gaps in data.

The Department of Fish and Game also plans to give prizes for surveys conducted in the three-week window before and after the summer solstice June 20 due to the late sunset time.

To participate in the survey, contact coordinator Zephyr Sincerny at the Haines Borough Public Library at 766-2545 or Tory Rhoads at 465-8155. Visit akcitizenscience.net for more information.

 
 

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