An exciting new tool called iBatsID is set to revolutionise bat identification for conservation efforts throughout Europe, with the ability to classify the calls of 34 species found across the continent. The developers assessed 1350 recordings from the echolocation call library EchoBank, recording the values of 24 different call features from each species. Of the features studied, 12 were identified as being most useful for distinguishing the difference between species, including minimum and maximum frequencies and call duration. With an average species-level classification accuracy of 83.7%, the tool can successfully identify the majority of European bats to species level, with the exception of some members of the Myotis genus that have extremely similar calls and can accurately be classified to subgroup level. iBatsID is freely available for use and will allow standardised acoustic identification for bat research across Europe, the consistency of which will improve the validity of continent-wide monitoring.
Ref: Walters C. L. et al., 2012. A continental-scale tool for acoustic identification of European bats. Journal of Applied Ecology [link]
The preferred prey of the Natterer’s bat (Myotis nattereri) are flies (Diptera) of the suborder Brachycera, or diurnal flies. Bats hunt at night, and those that are insectivorous or carnivorous must rely on their sense of echolocation in order to find their prey. The difficulty lies in that flies sitting on a substrate such as a leaf or a wall are almost impossible to detect using echolocation. How it is that the Natterer’s bat manages to locate its prey was investigated by studying bats hunting houseflies (Musca domestica) in the setting of a cowshed. The bats seemed unable to locate individual flies sitting on the ceiling, even if the flies were on the move. But interestingly, the chance of being attacked by a bat increased hugely once flies began mating. During copulation, the male fly buzzes its wings, producing click-like noises. The bats appear to ‘eavesdrop’ on these sounds and use them to locate their prey. There is an extra bonus for the bat in listening out for this behaviour - in locating a copulating pair, they get a meal of not one, but two flies in a single attack. Confirmation that the bats were responding to acoustic signals from copulation was given when speakers were installed in the cowshed that played these sounds, resulting in attempted attacks and investigation by the Natterer’s bats. In contrast, they did not respond to lower frequency tones typical of a moving fly, suggesting that they attend specifically to the sounds of flies in copulation. Though this was tested in a cowshed setting, it is likely that this method is also used by bats when searching for their prey in vegetation and other settings.
Ref: Siemers M. B. et al. (2012) Bats eavesdrop on the sound of copulating flies. Current Biology 22(14) [link]
More good news for the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) as data arrives from two adult males that were successfully captured, collared and released in late May and early June this year in Afghanistan. The first snow leopard to be captured, named Pahlawan, has been found to have travelled over 125 kilometres so far, while the second, named Khani Wakhai, despite being captured more recently, has travelled more than 153 kilometres. The story has been filmed by Nat Geo Wild and will be shown in a documentary, Snow Leopards of Afghanistan in December this year during Big Cat Week. The ability to track the movements of adult snow leopards will be a massive aid in learning more about their behaviour, habitat and range, and when combined with current studies of the early life of snow leopard cubs will greatly expand our knowledge of this iconic endangered species. Snow leopards have now been recognised as endangered by the IUCN for 30 years, and with today’s populations estimated between just 3000 and 7500 individuals, studies like these will be essential if we are to save this majestic big cat. To support the conservation of snow leopards as well as many other endangered species and their habitats, please consider donating to the Wildlife Conservation Society, who collaborated with Afghan veterinarians to complete this research.
Ref: Stephen Sautner (2012). First snow leopards collared in Afghanistan. EurekAlert! Zoology News [link]
The discovery of the dens of two snow leopard (Panthera uncia) mothers with young cubs in Mongolia’s Tost Mountains by conservation organisations Panthera and the Snow Leopard Trust will help to provide much-needed insights into the early life of this elusive endangered species. Read the full story here!