Bats In Your Backyard
Amy Thurston Toronto and Region Conservation Community Engagement Team
To date, Toronto and Region Conservation's (TRCA) Education and Community Engagement teams have successfully met their public engagement target for 2017. All Community Engagement staff have been trained in the Bats in Your Backyard program and use of the Wildlife Acoustic Echo Meter Touch modules and app. Our Field Centre staff have also been trained and bat detectors have been deployed to Albion Hills, Kortright, Claremont and Lake St. George Field Centres to be used during school programming beginning this fall. Through the Bats in Your Backyard program, our citizen scientists have found three species (Hoary bat, Big brown bat and Silver haired bat) in five locations.
As our program expands and additional locations are surveyed, we anticipate we will find more species. Participants provided positive feedback about the Bats in your Backyard program and were excited to have the opportunity to see bats in the night sky, where otherwise they might fly by silently. When asked during a pre-program survey, 32% of participants thought that the majority of local bats carried rabies. Following the program, 100% of participants understood that only a small percentage of bats carry rabies indicating that the program is having a positive impact on participants' knowledge and attitude about bats. The Echo Meter Touch modules and Echo Meter App have allowed TRCA's teams to provide a visual experience for participants to learn about acoustic bat identification. The data being collected through the use of the Echo Meter Touch devices will be submitted to the TRCAs Terrestrial Inventories and Monitoring Team to use and share the data with other interested parties.
Toronto and Region Conservation's (TRCA) Bats in Your Backyard program engaged 105 participants through five community events from June to August 2017. Each program included a presentation on the ecology of local bats, threats facing bats including white nose syndrome, and actions they could take to protect them. During the project, five bat boxes were also constructed to create habitat. Participants were taken on a guided bat survey which acoustically monitored bats through presence/apparent absence data. They learned about bat survey methodology and undertook the completion of citizen science data recording sheets. Data collected included: date, time, location, suggested auto-id, call frequency range, whether a terminal buzz was heard, weather conditions, temperature, and wind conditions. This data was recorded when an echolocation call was heard over the Echo Meter module. Participants were careful not to make a second observation unless a second bat was visually confirmed or at least 100m passed since the previous observation. In total 23 unique observations were recorded, finding two species of bats including: Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) and Hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus). As well, several additional observations of either the Big brown bat or Silver haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans) were made but the species could not be confirmed due to the similarity of their calls. The data collected was shared with TRCA's Terrestrial Inventories and Monitoring team to assist in their research into local bats, and will be shared with other interested parties.
A pre and post survey of participants using true or false statements was undertaken to evaluate the impact of the program. Results are in the table below and indicate a clear increase in both the knowledge and attitudes of participants as well as a willingness to take action to help the conservation of bats. As one participant remarked in part, "I got to be a citizen scientist tonight, and it was very cool. I was thrilled to actually see and hear several Big Brown Bats who were flying low overhead looking for insects a little after sunset. They were hunting insects that would otherwise have been hunting me out there...so I've been converted as a bat fan. This science stuff is fun!".
2017 also saw the training of four of TRCA's Field Centres on the program and the use of modules in preparation for spring. This, combined with an earlier seasonal start time and expanded marketing through new and continued partnerships, should result in further engagement in 2018.