July 3, 2013
UK Team Uses Echolocation To Produce Highly Detailed Bat Maps
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Using over 15,000 recordings of echolocation sounds gathered from across the UK countryside, researchers from the University of Leeds have rendered the most detailed, large-scale maps of bat distribution in northern England.
According to the researchers, the bat maps are especially significant because the animals represent about 25 percent of all of the UK's native mammal species and can be a canary-in-the-coal-mine, ecologically speaking.
"Since bats are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment, they are recognized as good indicators for the overall health of an ecosystem," said lead author Chloe Bellamy from the University of Leeds.
According to their report in the Journal of Applied Ecology, the researchers looked into the odds of finding bats in both their 'home' environment and finding them in the much wider landscape. This gave the team a more detailed map along with important details on how different species are affected by changes to the landscape.
"Once we had the maps, rather than just the raw data inputs, it told us a great deal about the bats," Bellamy told the BBC News.
"It told us about the distribution across the (Lake District) National Park and we found out some things about species that we did not really know," she said. "For example, there is a big, fast-flying bat called the noctule and we did not know that it tended to avoid high altitudinal areas.
"Once we had built a Habitat Suitability Map, we were able to see this straight away," Bellamy added.
The team noted roads and other infrastructure affected different species over small distances, but all were affected similarly when a larger area was examined.
"Conservation managers and planners tend to look at the local effects of urbanization or other environmental change, but our research highlights the potentially severe impact on an ecosystem of more subtle changes over much larger areas," said co-author John Altringham, a biology professor at Leeds.
The team said they relied heavily on software developed by Leeds professor Chris Scott which allowed them to distinguish among the various calls of all eight bat species in the study.
"This is something that would have been impossible with the technology that was available only a few years ago, so we were incredibly fortunate to have Chris in our research team," Bellamy said.
The researchers said they are continuing to expand their study across different parts of northern England.
"There have already been some magical moments during the field trips, such as watching and listening to Daubenton's bats from a canoe in the middle of Coniston Water," Bellamy noted. "The English countryside during twilight makes for a stunning natural laboratory."
For now, Bellamy said the UK's North York Moors National Park was planning to use the study's current maps.
"For example, if you were thinking about planting a woodland, you could then re-run the model to see what sort of impact a woodland in that location would have on habitat suitability for bats," she suggested to the BBC.