Summing Up NABat Successes

a person sets up a research device on the edge of a pond
University of North Carolina at Greensboro researcher Han Li, a coauthor of the study in Ambio, sets up a microphone in promising bat habitat. Photo by Melissa McGaw, Flickr.

The North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat) was designed to meet local needs, and it must do that if locals are expected to continue participating.

NABat launched in 2015 as a collaborative, long-term program to assess the status and trends of North American bats at local, regional, and range-wide scales. NABat developed out of a national working group chaired by USDA Forest Service research ecologist Susan Loeb.

NABat’s goals are to provide regular assessments on bat abundance and distribution and to inform forest management and other local and regional practices.

Its centralization reduces redundancy and promotes an economy of scale. Users have the advantages of the 44 million-record database without needing to build or maintain its computing infrastructure.

“It grew from zero to incredible participation,” Loeb says. NABat now has more than 500 online registered users, with data collected across 49 U.S. states and 6 Canadian provinces. In 2020 alone, the NABat database increased from 29,742 database records to more than 44 million. The big jump occurred when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) asked people to enter data on three species being assessed for listing under the Endangered Species Act: tricolored bats, northern long-eared bats, and little brown bats. NABat used those submissions to create detailed status and trends documents that FWS is now using to make its listing decisions.

Early on, Loeb with Ben Neece and David Jachowski from Clemson University tested how well NABat’s acoustic survey methods worked. Using the NABat continent-wide grid, they selected priority locations for South Carolina based on the NABat spatially balanced, random sampling design. These research results were published in the Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management.

The team followed the NABat recommendation to establish mobile transects (road portions good for bat sightings) in 30 cells and 1-3 stationary survey points within 25 cells for a total of 38 cells surveyed yearly. The team compared its bat detection locations to historic records of distributions of 14 bat species. Overall, NABat proved an effective and efficient method for monitoring many bat species.

In another study, NABat coordinator Brian Reichert, Loeb, and others looked at the program as a model for collaboration. Their findings were published in Ambio. The team asked whether NABat remains relevant for satisfying information needs at a variety of spatial scales; how collaboration in it can be motivated and sustained; and how scientific rigor is assured without overly prescriptive control.

an acoustic monitor on the hood of a car
In 2015, Ben Neece, then a Clemson University graduate student, attached a mobile bat detector to the hood of a pick-up truck and drove across South Carolina recording bat echolocation calls – one of the first tests of NABat monitoring techniques. Photo by Ben Neece.

The team found that regional hubs effectively engage participants while meeting science standards. Hubs help prevent redundancies, facilitate equipment sharing, provide training, streamline data submission and analysis, and ensure that data address members’ needs. Clemson University soon will have the first Southeastern Bat Hub.

Hubs also ensure that data collection efforts throughout their regions follow the sampling order of the NABat Master Sample. With the template, partners can tailor a design for their survey location and questions.

For example, in North Carolina, mobile acoustic surveys followed NABat guidance annually from 2015 through 2019. Each year, at least 20 organizations surveyed 45 transects, with each partner covering the highest-priority parts of its jurisdiction.

Participants benefited by gaining access to each other’s data and receiving timely reports and state-wide assessments. All willingly contributed their data to range-wide species assessments but also had their own information needs met.

NABat offers a framework for gathering reliable information to meet a wide range of objectives. Before NABat, government agencies lacked inventory on local species for making conservation decisions. Industries needed similar information to comply with laws. Non-profit organizations and trained community scientists monitored some sites for public education purposes. Academic researchers used resulting data to investigate environmental stressors.

“It has been very successful,” Loeb concludes. “We just need to keep it going.”

Read the article about collaborative monitoring via NABat.

Read the article about assessing NABat’s efficacy.

For more information, email Susan Loeb at susan.loeb@usda.gov.

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.

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