They Only Come Out At Night - Counting Bats With Radars
It's enough to drive you batty: millions of bats are dying up and down the east coast from a mysterious affliction called White Nose Syndrome, and nobody knows what to do about it.
They're only bats, so who cares, right? Well, farmers and gardeners for one: a single brown bat eats around 3,000 insects a night! Multiply this by 150 (a typical brown bat colony), and you've potentially saved farmers around $1 billion annually, in pesticide costs and crop damage alone.
So when the entire population of brown bats is threatened with extinction within the next 20 years, it's time to pay attention.
And that's exactly what an interdisciplinary team from the University of California Santa Cruz, Boston University, the University of Oklahoma, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Severe Storms Laboratory, are doing - in a manner that has never been tried before. The team knows that, in order to understand this problem, it is first essential to be able to track these nocturnalites.
Until now, the method of tracking bats has been primitive and unreliable: the basic version being that a lot of people come out on a single night and count the bats that fly directly overhead. Then an estimate of their numbers is made, based on these observations. It's just one night, and it doesn't track their movements, and has no means of determining whether these movements change over time, or whether the bats stick together, or anything much, really.
Meanwhile, our weather tracking systems get more and more advanced, and - get this - incorporate plenty of expensive software that is designed to filter out the 'bioscatter' of critters just like our flying furry friends. By disabling this software, the team are able to track bats better than ever before, giving them the kind of data that could help keep the bats alive, and the mosquitoes and cucumber beetles in check.
Here's a BBC report on this project: