The Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to expand its bat monitoring program across the state with some new contracts. The DNR’s Karen Kinkead says the program began around 10 years ago.
“And we’ve sort of grown the program over the last several years adding a new county or two each year. And so, this time we’ve gotten more money and we are hoping to expand almost statewide over the next three years,” Kinkead says.
Federal officials picked the states where the sound monitoring of bats is done. She says the states and their partners then come up with routes that are driven by cars with boxes on top that records the sounds of the bats as they use echo location to fly and find food. Those recorded sounds then let them know what type of bats they have in each state.
Kinkead says computer software determines what type of bat the recorder heard. She says bat populations have been declining after being hit by disease.
“White Nose Syndrome is a fungus that was introduced into the eastern U-S many years ago and it has slowly moved westward and has is know found I believe from coast to coast — we do have it here in Iowa,” she says. “And it’s a fungus that eats through the skin of the bat as it hibernates in the winter. Obviously, it makes them uncomfortable it wakes them up and there is no food available, there’s no water available, and it disrupts their metabolism and causes quite a bit of mortality.”
Kinkead says there’s some indication that White Nose Syndrome has dropped off in the east.
“Since it’s new in Iowa, we think we are still seeing a decline in our bat numbers, and we want to get a handle on that,” she says. The DNR has won some federal money to go along with state money, and will work with Iowa State University and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation in the bat tracking program.
Kinkead says there’s no way to treat the bats — so they are focusing on improving their habitat to make them healthier.
“Invasive species in our forests is a real issue — like honeysuckle and those other invasive shrubs come in. It makes it hard for people to walk in the woods, and it also makes it hard for bats to fly and echo locate and find the insects that they need to eat and to stay healthy in the summer and produce young,” according to Kinkead.
She says they are still determining which counties they will add to their bat monitoring. They will also be sending out a call for volunteers to drive the bat listening routes sometime in April or May.