University of Winnipeg wants you to join 'Neighbourhood Bat Watch'

University of Winnipeg is asking Manitobans to join citizen scientists in Ontario and Quebec and start collecting information about bat habitats and colonies for researchers.

Crowd-sourced initiative tracks bat colonies in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba

White-nose syndrome has decimated the populations of bats in eastern Canada, researchers warn it's just a matter of time before it shows up in Manitoba. (Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation/AP)

The University of Winnipeg's Bat Lab wants Manitobans to help collect data on an endangered species. Neighbourhood Bat Watch uses the crowd-sourced information to help conservation efforts.

Colonies are marked using a Google map. The university's Bat Lab led the website's creation, along with support from the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science and the Quebec Government.

Millions of bats have died in the past decade in North America because of white-nose syndrome. The fungal infection has hit eastern Canada particularly hard.

White-nose syndrome is responsible for killing nearly 99 per cent of bats in New Brunswick. It has been spotted in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia. So far, the syndrome has not turned up in Manitoba, according to the Bat Lab, but it spreads further west every year.

"Citizen scientists" who take part in Neighbourhood Bat Watch are asked to locate bat colonies on their property and log their size. The information helps contribute to a "critical first step in the conservation of bats in North America," said the university. Researchers in Ontario and Quebec have already begun collecting information. 
A Google map generated by the University of Winnipeg's Neighbourhood Bat Watch. It relies on citizen scientists to gather information about bats to help conservation efforts. (Neighbourhood Bat Watch)

Common bat species are nocturnal and tend to be difficult to spot, the university said, so backyard science is key to figuring out how many of the bug-eaters are left.

The Canadian government has listed three bat species as endangered animals: little brown, northern long-eared bats, and tri-coloured bats. While generally harmless, bats can carry rabies so people are advised not to try to touch them.