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Parks Canada using new technology to monitor bats in P.E.I. National Park

<p>The northern long-eared bat was recently listed at “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The species has been struggling on P.E.I. since white nose syndrome was discovered in the local population in 2013.</p>
In 2013, P.E.I. saw its first case of white nose syndrome (WNS) in its bat population. Now, six years later, the Island has witnessed a 90 per cent decrease in the bat population. - SaltWire file photo

In 2013, P.E.I. saw its first case of white nose syndrome (WNS) in its bat population. 

Now, six years later, the Island has witnessed a 90 per cent decrease in the bat population. 

It’s not all bleak, however. Parks Canada has implemented a new research project to collect and help to protect bats in the province. 

Since 2015, Parks Canada has been using acoustic monitoring, a sensor that reads animal noises. Scientists using this technology can determine what kind of animal, the amount of activity and from where the sounds are coming from. 

Kerry-Lynn Atkinson, Resource Management Officer at Parks Canada, said the new project was developed with information gathered from previous work done in P.E.I. National Park.  

The program has already narrowed down three locations on the Island having bat activity. 

“The research team has been lucky this summer, finding three roofs of local homes, just outside P.E.I. National Park’s boundaries. A study like this gives us great opportunities to work with local home owners and stakeholders to help the bats.

“Using four years-worth of acoustic monitoring data we gathered, we’re able to locate the best area to conduct this research, and we’re already getting quite a bit information in these last few months.” 

“We're getting information we didn’t have before on species specifics. The sex of the bats, ages, the number of reproductive females.”
-Kerry-Lynn Atkinson

The project consists of five organizations working on the project, including the University of Waterloo, which is using new methods to gather data on bat progress. 

“We’re doing what’s called mist-netting and radio-tagging. We catch the bats at night, collect data and install small transmitter tags onto the bat. We then monitor what they do and where they go throughout the day,” explained Atkinson. 

These new elements of the project started in June and are giving promising results. 

“We're getting information we didn’t have before on species specifics. The sex of the bats, ages, the number of reproductive females.” 

An aspect of the project is tallying the number of white-nose syndrome positive bats inhabiting P.E.I. 

“There are tell-tale symptoms of the disease. It’s a fungus that grows around their noses, making it harder for them to breathe. But the real issue with white-nose syndrome is when bats develop it in the winter, while in hibernation. They wake up too early, and die from the elements and of starvation, as there is no food for a bat in the middle of winter.”  

Atkinson said one of the major assignments is tracking the bat to where they sleep. 

“Bats are hibernating animals, they go somewhere. With the tagging, we’re able to determine the bat routes. It could be hibernation dens, maternal dens (where they raise their young), and with the information we are gathering, we can take appropriate measures in ensuring these critical locations are protected,” said Atkinson.  

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