Regina researchers hoping to study pandemic's effect on bat populations
Reduced noise pollution could lead to bats having to travel less and finding more insects to eat: researcher
As International Bat Appreciation Day is recognized Friday, a Regina researcher is hoping to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the flying mammals.
Public health orders in Saskatchewan are advising people to stay home as much as possible. That means less vehicles on the road and less noise pollution in the city.
Mark Brigham, a professor of biology at the University of Regina, says this makes it the perfect time to study the impacts of silence on bat populations.
"It would be interesting to see how bats respond to that and we can ask that question by remotely eavesdropping on the echolocation calls that they make," Brigham said.
Brigham said opportunities are limited during the pandemic, but he hopes to have students out individually to place bat detectors in various locations. He said they could then compare the data from 2020 with 2021 and 2022.
The bat detectors are similar to a tape recorder with a microphone that is sensitive to high frequency sounds that bats make.
The human ear can't hear the bats sounds but the devices can and gauge how active the bats are and which species of bat they are.
"We would hope to put at least five to 10 in sort of the inner part of Regina, five to 10 in the suburb area and five to 10 outside of the city in more rural areas," Brigham said. "I think that would give us a pretty good picture."
"This project will have to take a couple of years because hopefully next year — in sort of a negative way — we'll be back to normal and noisy and dirty and see if the bats change their behaviour," he said.
Brigham's hypothesis is that since bats rely on sound to find food and fly around, the reduced noise may lead them to new places.
"I think it's possible that the interior of Canadian cities might be quieter and therefore there might be more activity in those places — instead of them having to fly out to suburbs or rural areas in order to find insects to eat."
Brigham said he expects this would make bats' lives easier, because they use older buildings to roost in cities at times.
"It may contribute to combat some of the things that are knocking bat populations down," Brigham said. "It would show that if we can live quieter and cleaner, other things can benefit from that."
Brigham's research is currently on hold because the University of Regina is only allowing approved research under the current state of emergency. He said he can't start until he has permission.
"But with the nicer weather coming, bats are going to start to become active in the next couple of weeks," he said. "So it would be nice to get started sooner rather than later, but we'll do it when we can."
Brigham said that while people may not want a bat in their home, they should remember the good the creatures do.
"They eat half of their entire weight in flying insects every night, and most of the insects they eat we don't like, so bats do a lot of good for us," Brigham said. "Like all wildlife around, they deserve a chance."
Brigham said colleagues throughout Canada are planning on working together for this research to get a national picture.
With files from The Morning Edition