With Halloween approaching, this is the time of year when bats take center stage in decorations and spooky vampire dramas.
But bats are much more than movie monsters or haunted house mascots. They play a critical role in ecological food webs and are important for human health because of the pest control they provide. For instance, one bat can eat 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour, or up to 6,000 a night.
That's why the Forest Preserve is seeking volunteers for its new Citizen Science Bat Monitoring Program to collect data on these interesting and beneficial creatures. If you are interested in becoming a citizen bat monitor, contact Renee Gauchat, the Forest Preserve’s volunteer supervisor, at 815.722.7364. The sign-up deadline is April 1. Volunteers will be taken on a first come, first served basis.
Bat monitors will attend a mandatory evening training session on April 12 to learn the equipment and sign up for routes. In spring 2018, pairs of bat monitors will hike 1.5- to 2-mile routes at dusk using hand-held iPads fitted with bat detectors to record and download bat calls. Three preserves will be monitored: Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve in Crete Township, McKinley Woods in Channahon and Hammel Woods in Shorewood.
At least eight bat species call Will County home: big brown, hoary, red, silver-haired, little brown, northern long-eared, tri-colored and evening. With nearly 22,000 acres, bats can be found in many Will County forest preserves.
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The Forest Preserve’s program is part of a multiagency effort to establish a regional Citizen Science Bat Monitoring Program in northeastern Illinois. Seven other agencies are already involved: Chicago Wilderness, Lincoln Park Zoo, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and four other northern Illinois forest preserve districts.
Data collection is needed to understand bat migration and immigration patterns, preferred habitats, summer residency locations and the abundance of bats in Will County. The program is important because bats in the United States are in decline due to pesticide use and habitat loss. Another threat also has emerged: white nose syndrome. The syndrome is a fungal disease that causes bats to come out of hibernation during winter, typically resulting in death.
"The information collected by volunteer monitors will be crucial to bat conservation efforts,” said Juanita Armstrong-Ullberg, the Forest Preserve’s natural resource land manager. "The data can be used to help ecologists better understand the habitat requirements for the different bat species during the summer months, providing land managers better knowledge when managing natural areas. We may also learn just how drastic species declines are and how they are affecting bat activity in the Chicago region."
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