Experts studying bat populations in Alabama

Experts studying bat populations in Alabama
Researchers measure a bat during Alabama's annual Bat Blitz. (Laura Thomas)

Bat enthusiasts, including Alabama Power biologists, from across the state flocked to Hamilton earlier this month to search for their favorite creature of the night at the annual Bat Blitz.

The team of volunteer biologists, researchers and bat lovers converge every summer to survey Alabama bat populations. This year’s survey was held June 4-5 in Fayette and Marion counties. Typically, the event is held in an under sampled area of the state.

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Both nights volunteers set up mist nets to capture bats, which were measured and given a checkup. Some protected or sensitive species of bats, if captured, are tagged before they are safely released so that researchers can learn more about their movement pattern.

According to Nick Sharp of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, 29 people participated in this year’s blitz, allowing the Alabama Bat Working Group to sample 11 different sites. In all, 18 bats from four different species were studied.

The event was sponsored by the Alabama Bat Working Group, which includes members from Alabama Power, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service and several universities, among others.

One of the benefits of surveying bat populations is it allows researchers to check for white-nose syndrome.

“White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus,” said Alabama Power biologist Jeff Baker. “As the fungal loads increase it interrupts the bat hibernation pattern, making them expend their energy store during hibernation, which makes it difficult for them to survive through the winter.”

White-nose syndrome can lead to significant bat population loss. While there is no cure yet for the disease, much research is being done for treatment and prevention through the Bats for the Future Fund, established by the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent company, is among the supporters of the fund.

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Baker, who has served as the co-chair for the Alabama Bat Blitz Committee, helps to organize the annual event. Baker co-chairs with Shannon Holbrook of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I’ve always been interested in bat conservation and, really, conservation of any imperiled species,” Baker said. “Some bat species are imperiled, and all are valuable to the ecosystem.”

Bats are more vital to the state of Alabama than most people realize, Baker said. Bats are voracious bug eaters and serve as natural controls on insect populations. Their eating habits help reduce insect damage to forest and crops, and in some parts of the world certain bat species can be important plant pollinators. There are 15 bat species found in Alabama. Three species – the gray bat, the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat – are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Learn more about bats in Alabama at https://www.outdooralabama.com/mammals/bats.

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