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Research scientists track valuable bats to help protect them as climate warms

Scientists track valuable bats for their protection in a warming world
Scientists track valuable bats for their protection in a warming world 02:37

Some people think they're spooky and sinister, but bats play a critical role in maintaining California's ecosystem as well as the state's valuable agriculture industry. Now climate change is threatening their populations.

They sleep during the day, begin to hunt as night falls, and often terrify people. However, there's nothing creepy about what bats do for the environment.

"They're not only cute, but they do these amazing roles like for our ecosystem," said UCLA bat biologist Joseph Curti.

Curti explained that without bats, the lives of humans would be far less enjoyable.

"We wouldn't have coffee; we wouldn't have chocolate. We wouldn't have tequila without bats. That should be enough!" exclaimed Curti.

Over 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination. They help disperse seeds and play an essential role in pest control by eating mosquitos, wasps and flies. Bats also reduce the risk of wildfires by gobbling up tree-destroying bark beetles.

"Bats can eat like up to half their body weight in insects per night," said Rachel Blakey, an assistant professor at Cal Poly Pomona who teaches biological sciences.

But for all the good they do, there is trouble ahead. Bat populations are declining around the world due to loss of habitat, pollution, and extreme weather events caused by climate change. And people are frequently indifferent to the plight bats face.

"It's very daunting knowing that there are these multitudes of factors that are leading to their declines and a general apathy by regular people towards bats," explained Curti.

Biologists around the world are far from apathetic, especially when it comes to climate change.

"The way animals move is very dependent on how the climate is behaving," said Levi Souza, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

His team is tracking bats by attaching small radio transmitters to them. It's part of an international research network called Motus.

"This type of technology is really useful in helping us answer questions about how animals might be impacted by climate change and the effects of climate change," explained Souza.

On a map provided by Motus, using data collected by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, you can see the migration of hoary bats. These are the most common bat in California. The technology shows in real time where the bat is traveling and how they're behaving.

Chaotic weather pattern can change when bats migrate, and that can impact their habitats and food. State and federal scientists are trying to understand where these bat are traveling so they can put the right time and resources into protecting them and their habitats.

"Lots of unanswered questions," noted Souza who hopes this work will provide timely answers for these flying creatures.

There are 25 known bat species in California. They provide billions of dollars' worth of pest control for California farmers. Last year, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill, and made the pallid bat the official state bat of California.

The hope is to learn more about how to preserve these creatures, as the planet continues to warm.

There are over 25 species of bats native to California -- including the official state bat, the pallid bat -- with over a dozen types of bats found in Northern California. The public can help CDFW track bat populations in California by reporting bat colonies or their roost sites.

The U.S. Department of the Interior recommended that you can help protect bats by planting a bat garden or building a bat house, but added that you should stay out of closed caves, especially one occupied by bats.

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