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Bioacoustic Research Lab Study Bats, Frogs and Toads

Dr. Thilina Surasinghe and Maria Armour
Bridgewater State University Foundation

Use of biophonic signals to assess occupancy of anurans and bats in in southern Massachusetts outside state protected area network Use of biophonic signals to assess occupancy of anurans and bats in in southern Massachusetts outside state protected area network Use of biophonic signals to assess occupancy of anurans and bats in in southern Massachusetts outside state protected area network

Update 1

As the Third Quarter grant recipients in 2017, we have now been able to begin the analysis portion of our first season of ultrasonic and acoustic data. For our collaborative project, this summer we have collected both acoustic and ultrasonic recordings at our study sites in Southeastern Massachusetts. This grant has allowed us to run our six months of calls through Kaleidoscope Pro. Over these last few months, a member of our team has attended a workshop run by Wildlife Acoustics and we all have learned how to apply Kaleidoscope Pro software. Our research team has just begun looking at our first season of recordings with less than 10% of our 2017 recordings analyzed.

Our goal for this project is to assess occupancies of bats and anuran taxa in Massachusetts protected and private areas and to analyze the overall soundscape for these sites. Two of our three field sites are located within Mass Audubon's Moosehill Wildlife Sanctuary (Sharon, MA) and a third, private site, in Bridgewater, MA. We deployed Wildlife Acoustics SM3BAT systems from May 2017 – October 2017 at the Mass Audubon sites. Along with learning the software ourselves, during the fall semester we began training two Undergraduate Biology majors enrolled in research credits. This has been the students' first true involvement in conducting scientific research.

Both of our SM3BAT hardware systems were fitted with ultrasonic and acoustic microphones. Since ending our field season in October, we have only been able to scratch the surface of our recordings; analyzing a couple hundred ultrasonic, bat calls. Non-ultrasonic, soundscape recordings have yet to be examined. In the coming semester, we along with our trained research students and new undergraduate students will begin acoustic analyses and continue cluster analysis on our ultrasonic recordings. Come March, our research team will begin the second field season.

Kaleidoscope Pro will continually be used moving forward with this project on bat and anuran taxa. Now that we have learned how to use this software, this spring we hope to complete analysis on our first season of acoustic recordings.

Update 2

The bioacoustics research lab at Bridgewater State University has made significant progress in the soundscape analysis portion of this project since the last report. Our undergraduate research students, Joshua Kelleher and Adam Enos, have been busy over the spring semester running manual species ID for bats on Kaleidoscope Pro. Through many hours at the computer, Josh and Adam have been able to put together preliminary results of our first season in two posters that they will present next month at the 2018 New England Natural History Conference (NENHC) in Burlington, VT. This will be the first academic conference presentation for both students and the first "publishing outlet" for the research we proposed. Josh's poster is titled "Differences in Seasonal Occurrence and Activity of Bat Species within Private Conservation Land in Massachusetts" and Adam's is "Bat Occupancy in Two Habitat Types in Private Conservation Lands of Southeastern Massachusetts". It is because of the Wildlife Acoustic grant that our two undergraduate student researchers are able to present on their research this coming April.

As we wrap up analysis on season 2017 and prepare for the regional conference, our second acoustic season is already underway. Due to multiple severe snowstorms we have had in the last two months, we have only now been able to access our acoustic recorder deployment sites. During this final week in March, the students and I re-deployed two SM3BAT systems at Mass Audubon's Moose Hill Sanctuary in Sharon, MA. Microphone position was slightly altered at both sites to minimize unwanted echoes from water surfaces. Our deployment setup has been given an update through the support of the Wildlife Acoustics grant. Each system is now housed in the SM3BAT Armor, which offers increased protection and a piece of mind during times of deployment. We also have installed a Garmin GPS unit. An external battery or solar power option is being investigated to extend our deployment dates.

We look forward to sharing our 2017 results that include both bat and amphibian analysis in the next progress report quarter.

Update 3

Use of biophonic signals to assess occupancy of anurans and bats in in southern Massachusetts outside state protected area network

During the third quarter of our Wildlife Acoustic’s Equipment Grant our lab successfully completed 2017 bat analyses using Kaleidoscope Pro and presented our results at a regional conference. Throughout the 2017 active season (May through October) we deployed SM3BAT ultrasonic recording devices at two sites (1 device per site) within the Mass Audubon Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon, MA. Following Kaleidoscope Pro and manual analysis, our results for this season include 4900+ bat passes being recorded over 31 nightly sessions at the vernal pool site and 2700+ bat passes over 21 nightly sessions for the forest edge/barn site. Highest month per night average at the vernal pool site was EPTFUS during each month except July, when MYOLUC was the highest recorded passes. At the forest edge/barn site MYOLUC was the highest passes during May per night average, followed by EPTFUS being the highest for the duration of the season. We also manually confirmed passes at both sites for: LASBOR, LASCIN, LASNOC, and PERSUB. Although these 2017 results gave evidence of high bat activity at both sites, after running statistical analysis (Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney Test and Kruskal-Wallis Tests) we found that there is no significant difference in bat community presence and activity levels of species between months and habitat type. Our study taxa are known to utilize a diversity of habitat types. Evidence that activity levels were high in our two habitats may be important to include habitat landscape in conservation efforts, not just a single habitat type.

In April our Undergraduate research students, Adam Enos and Joshua Kelleher, presented two posters at The Northeast Natural History Conference (Burlington, VT) on Southeastern Massachusetts bat community composition and activity during the 2017 season. Each student’s project was a part of a larger research project of Co-PI’s Surasinghe and Armour, which utilize Wildlife Acoustic equipment to study both anuran and bat communities. Their abstracts follow this project report. Both Adam and Josh just received their B.S. in Biology in May from Bridgewater State University and are motivated to secure a position in the field of wildlife ecology due to their positive experiences in undergraduate research.

This summer the lab is very active with Dr. Surasinghe training several undergraduate students in anuran field identification and Ms. Armour conducting active capture and release of bats at our two sites to confirm species presence and to collect biological data. We are also in the process of training two new undergraduate researchers who will join our lab in the fall. Both are being trained on SM3BAT deployment and Kaleidoscope Pro analysis. One will continue the bat research project started by Josh and Adam and the other student will investigate anuran and non-bat recordings from 2017-2018.

A portion of this project’s goals is to conduct community outreach. Along with time in the field, summer months are an opportunity to invite the public to join in and learn from our ongoing scientific research. Conservation of bats is often challenging due to unwarranted misconceptions surrounding them; community activities such as a bat walk help the public gain appreciation for this taxa and support conservation efforts of protecting their habitats. Ms. Armour will continue to run her annual public bat walks at Mass Audubon’s Moose Hill Sanctuary in Sharon, MA in July and Old Westbury Gardens, NY in August using Wildlife Acoustic equipment including the user-friendly Echo Meter Touch.

Adam Enos’ conference abstract:

Bats (Order: Chiroptera) are among the most diverse mammalian lineages in North America, and they occupy a wide variety of habitats. Different types of habitats- open spaces, forest edges, and forest interior- substantially vary in resource distribution and spatial structure (clutter), and therefore foraging strategies as well as echolocation signatures of bats can vary substantially among different habitats. In order to explore this hypothesis, we deployed two, SM3BAT automated Bioacoustics recorders (Wildlife Acoustics, Inc.) in a forest-edge habitat and a cluttered habitat located in Mass Audubon’s Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, in Sharon, MA. Forest edge habitat is a low-shrub dominant open area surrounded by a deciduous forest edge while the cluttered habitat is a mixed hardwood-coniferous forest containing two vernal pools. Analysis of the bioacoustics data through Kaleidoscope Pro software confirmed the presence of six bat species during the 2017 active season. Our preliminary analysis showed relative high nightly passes of Myotis lucifugus (Little Brown Bat) altered from the forest edge habitat in early spring to the closed habitat in mid to late summer. Our preliminary conclusions concerning M. lucifugus are that this could be related to either: changes in foliage density as the season progressed or food availability. Further investigation and data is required. We plan on continuing our research and data collection through the 2018 season.

Joshua Kelleher’s conference abstract:

There are nine Vespertilionid species of bat documented within Massachusetts; five of these have been state-listed as Endangered. The long-term assessment of bat activity and presence may offer valuable population data on the affect environmental and human-driven pressures (wind turbines, human disturbance and diseases including White Nose Syndrome) have on our regional bat populations. This study has investigated bat species composition and occurrence within two habitat types (forest edge and forest interior) in Mass Audubon’s Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon, MA. Passive ultrasonic recordings were made using the automated bioacoustic recorder SM3BAT (Wildlife Acoustics Inc.) during active season months in 2017. Recordings were then run through Kaleidoscope Pro Analysis Software and manual species identification was conducted. Throughout the active season, Eptesicus fuscus (Big Brown Bat) was consistently present at both deployment sites. The months of May and June have a greater presence per recorded night of two migrating species within the forest interior when compared to mid or late summer months: Lasiurus cinereus (Hoary Bat) and Lasionycteris noctivagans (Silver-haired Bat). Finally, Perimyotis subflavus (Tricolored Bat) echolocation pulses were only recorded in May for the forest edge site, but present in the forest interior during early, mid, and late summer. We plan on correlating these preliminary results with classified foraging and migratory strategies of Massachusetts bat species to help determine a baseline for species occurrence and activity levels. This first season of data will aid in a long-term study of bat populations within this protected area.

  1. Enos AM, Kelleher J, Surasinghe T, Armour M (2018) Bat Occupancy in Two Habitat Types in Private Conservation Lands of Southeastern Massachusetts. In: Northeastern Natural History Conference. Burlington, VT
  2. Kelleher JA, Enos AM, Surasinghe T, Armour M (2018) Differences in Seasonal Occurrence and Activity of Bat Species within a Private Conservation Land in Massachusetts. In: Northeastern Natural History Conference. Burlington, VT

Final Update

Use of biophonic signals to assess occupancy of anurans and bats in in southern Massachusetts outside state protected area network

Figure 1: New SM3BAT setup prior to deployment. Solar panel attached to PVC pipes allow deployment in open field space while SM3BAT is attached to a solitary tree.

Use of biophonic signals to assess occupancy of anurans and bats in in southern Massachusetts outside state protected area network

Figure 2a: Thermal images of a two chambered bat house located on an active barn in Moose Hill Sanctuary. Pre-emergence of the 20-30 roosting Big Brown Bats (a) and image during the evening emergence (b).

Use of biophonic signals to assess occupancy of anurans and bats in in southern Massachusetts outside state protected area network

Figure 2b: Image during the evening emergence (b).

During the fourth quarter of this research project, our progress has hit several roadblocks. This has made for a challenging end to the active season for us. Issues we faced included failure of internal batteries, calibration issues, and scheduling. This year, to save card space and extend our deployment periods, we decided to start recording in WAV files when programing our SM3BAT. Early on in the season, limitation of these files was discovered as the SM3BAT system was not able to dynamically change channels (only ultrasonic mic triggered recordings) while recording in WAV. Fortunately, this user error was identified through contacting Wildlife Acoustic’s support team and reading Jeff King’s whitepaper “Acoustic (Bird/Amphibian) and Ultrasonic (Bat) Recording with the SM3BAT”. Dual trigger capabilities were allowed once recordings were in WAC files. A positive outcome of this past season was being able to extend deployment periods by using external batteries connected to a solar panel (figure 1). This extended system was possible due to the creativity, knowledge, and effort of our University’s Analytical Instrumentation Staff, Rob Monteith.

Conservation outreach has been a major goal of this project. Through the collaboration with staff at Mass Audubon, Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary (our project’s field site) has created an educational exhibit based on our research with bats. Visitors of this sanctuary are able to learn about the different species of bat in Massachusetts and get informed about the acoustic study being conducted on the grounds. This sanctuary has several bat houses that have been erected throughout the trails and on buildings. I captured thermal images of a Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) roost while mist netting this summer (figure 2a and 2b) and the Sanctuary’s wildlife camera captured activity of both a bat (species unknown) and two fox cubs near our open field site (figure 3).

The Acoustic lab here at Bridgewater has recently started training two new undergraduate researchers who will be assisting in the analysis of ultrasonic recording (Catherine Cameron) and acoustic recordings (Ashley Zimmerman) this coming academic year. Both are keen to get started with their respective training on Kaleidoscope Pro. Our lab plans on utilizing the new Kaleidoscope Pro Cloud Account to maximize our efforts even when we are not in our lab. The 2018 recordings are in the early stages of being analyzed.

Use of biophonic signals to assess occupancy of anurans and bats in in southern Massachusetts outside state protected area network

Figure 3: Wildlife camera still from 10 July 2018 near our open field site. Species of bat are unknown; image also shows two fox cubs. Courtesy of Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary

Additional Info

  • Products: Song Meter SM4BAT
  • Research Type: Record Any Sound, Anywhere
  • Species: Bats
  • Field Story Type: Grant Recipient Field Stories