Bats, along with birds and butterflies, are important biodiversity indicator species and their population trends can be used to monitor the health of ecosystems and the impact of global change. However, bat populations are only monitored in a few countries around the world, mostly using visual counts at roosts or from bats captured with mist nets by professional biologists. One of the unique features of bats is that they use high frequency sounds to navigate and to find food (echolocation). By emitting these sounds they leak useful information about themselves into the environment that can be detected and interpreted. Monitoring bat acoustic biodiversity can therefore provide an efficient way to assess ecosystem responses to global anthropogenic changes. The Indicator Bats Program (iBats), a partnership project between the Zoological Society of London and the Bat Conservation Trust, is the first global bat acoustic monitoring programme. iBats works with NGOs to engage volunteers locally to monitor their bat populations nationally and develops standardised monitoring protocols and novel and innovative acoustic monitoring tools that are accessible to everyone (not just professional biologists).
Since 2006, iBats has engaged over 700 local volunteers in existing national NGOs in seven countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Japan Romania, Russia, Ukraine and UK) to collect acoustic data along driven transects using standardised protocols in biannual surveys. These data have then been analysed to monitor changes in bat activity over time. We have carried out over 20 training workshops in these countries, and donated over £40,000 worth of equipment. Pilot projects have also been started in eight other countries around the world (Madagascar, Thailand, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, Zambia, Ghana, and USA). Volunteers use the iBats web data portal (www.ibats.org.uk) to upload and manage their data and to get feedback about distribution of bats and trends in populations over time in their region. These data are given to national policy makers and local conservation groups. Their data are also vital internationally for the successful implementation of resolutions arising from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to monitoring and halting the loss of biodiversity. More recently, iBats has developed applications for the iPhone and Android phones which when linked to the bat detector, can record, geo-locate surveys and automatically upload data to the website, replacing the need for a separate recording device and GPS. We are currently working on a system to automatically detect bat calls within long sound sequences and identify them to species.
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