A new tool to identify the calls of bat species could help conservation efforts.
Because bats are nocturnal and difficult to observe or catch, the most effective way to study them is to monitor their echolocation calls. These sounds are emitted in order to hear the echo bouncing back from surfaces around the bats, allowing them to navigate, hunt and communicate.
Many different measurements can be taken from each call, such as its minimum and maximum frequency, or how quickly the frequency changes during the call, and these measurements are used to help identify the species of bat.
However, a paper by an international team of researchers, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, asserts that poor standardisation of acoustic monitoring limits scientists’ ability to collate data.
Kate Jones, chairwoman of the UK-based Bat Conservation Trust
told the BBC that “without using the same identification methods everywhere, we cannot form reliable conclusions about how bat populations are doing and whether their distribution is changing.
“Because many bats migrate between different European countries, we need to monitor bats at a European – as well as country – scale.”
The team selected 1,350 calls from 34 different European bat species from EchoBank, a global echolocation library containing more than 200,000 bat call recordings. This raw data has allowed them to develop the identification tool, iBatsID
, which can identify 34 out of 45 species of bats.
This free online tool works anywhere in Europe, and its creators claim can identify most species correctly more than 80% of the time.
There are 18 species of bat residing in the UK, including the common pipistrelle and greater horseshoe bat.
Monitoring bats is vital not just to this species, but also to the whole ecosystem. Bats are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment, so if bat populations are declining, it can be an indication that other species might be affected in the future.