Bats are incredibly important to both ecosystems and humans. Their significance is demonstrated through the ecosystem services they provide, which includes seed dispersal, pollination and insect population control. Within states whose economies are largely dependent on agriculture, such as Nebraska, ecosystem services provided by bats are of particular significance. Pest control services alone from bats are valued between $3.7 and $53 billion dollars each year. This is largely because bats are voracious predators of nocturnal insects, including significant agricultural and forest ecosystem pests.
Only a handful of scientists have done extensive research on bats in Nebraska. Those who have been working in the state have provided valuable information, but gaps of knowledge exist. A majority of the work that has been done previously was based on data from net–captured bats, which provides valuable information but net based approaches are logistically constrained to small sample sizes. This project is based on acoustic sampling of all species present. This is especially important now given the impending impacts of wind turbines and White–Nose Syndrome (WNS), which have the potential to negatively affect Nebraska bat populations. The more we are able to understand how Nebraska bats interact with landscape the better we will be able to manage populations and mitigate impacts of development and disease.
North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat) is a national protocol designed to streamline data collection and encourage collaboration across ecoregions in order to allow for broad understanding of bat ecology, populations, and habitat usage. This project will use NABat to study the full range of bats found in the state of Nebraska, determining the habitat characteristics that influence bat presence and absence across Nebraska using a combination of stationary and mobile ultrasound acoustic detectors. A secondary focus of the project will be to determine the ability of mobile transects to detect shifts in bat population trends. The combined use of stationary points and mobile transects will establish a framework for determining the distribution of bat species across the state. In the second year of the project, citizen scientists will be recruited to collect data in an effort to increase public knowledge of, and involvement in, the study of bat species in Nebraska. In addition to providing data for monitoring and habitat analysis, this study will assess the effectiveness of the NABat program in Nebraska, including an estimate of the time and monetary investment required to conduct bat population monitoring over time. Since beginning our field work on June 1, we have collected data in 29 of the 38 grid cells selected for studying species distribution across the state, and have recorded high levels of bat activity in most locations. Data analysis is commencing and will continue until the end of the project.