The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has adopted a clever approach to studying the state’s bat populations: using local libraries.
Officials in Southeast Alaska have been monitoring the bat population in the area for several years, but they have recently upped their game by recruiting citizen scientists. In several Alaskan cities, library cardholders can now check out the equipment necessary to complete acoustic driving surveys of local bat populations. These data-collection missions, which require a GPS, an ultrasonic microphone, and a recorder specially tuned to the frequency of bat signals, can help researchers pinpoint where large populations of bats live.
This initiative is especially important right now as part of the state's larger effort to stave off white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that disrupts the hibernation of bats. The disease has been decimating bat populations in the eastern and central regions of the U.S. and Canada. It’s important that bat researchers in Alaska understand which species of bats are living in the state, and where, before the disease takes hold. The acoustic surveys help scientists get a better idea of the baseline bat population in the region.
Essentially, aspiring scientists just check out some equipment from the local library (for 15 days), mount a magnified microphone to the top of their "batmobile," and hit the road after sunset with a box containing the GPS and a device that records the bat calls. The scientists at the Fish and Game Department have certain routes they are interested in exploring, and knowing where along those routes there are large bat populations helps determine where further research should be conducted.
According to Alaska Public Media, the initiative has been so successful that the state is considering adding citizen scientists to its amphibian research as well.