Regina researchers hoping to study pandemic's effect on bat populations

A University of Regina researcher says reduced noise pollution could mean bats have to travel less to find food.

Reduced noise pollution could lead to bats having to travel less and finding more insects to eat: researcher

Bats eat about half their weight in insects a night, making them good for people to have around, Mark Brigham said. (Submitted by Cory Olson)

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."

In 2017, over two dozen bats were rescued by Regina firefighters and Salthaven West Wildlife Rescue. (Megan Lawrence/Salthaven West)

"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."

A rescued big brown bat spending time in its crocheted 'bat-cave'. (Salthaven West/Facebook)

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."

Mark Brigham said he hopes to start his research about bats sooner rather than later. (Submitted by Vickram Misra)

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


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?