Bat Research With Grand Canyon National Park’s Science and Resource Management Team

Yesterday was the longest day ever. My flight got delayed and I didn’t get home to flagstaff until 5am. I thought about bowing out of this research project but I’ve been really looking forward to volunteering with the Grand Canyon National Park Service’s Science and Resource Team. Though totally exhausted when I arrived on location, I quickly became re-energized by the task at hand.

I arrived before dusk and watched the team set up several large nets over a little stream to catch bats as they came out for a drink of water. It was cold and windy, the wind usually dies down at Grand Canyon just after sunset but last night it did not. We waited for dusk to turn to night and periodically walked over to the nets to check them.

It was so exciting when the team caught the first bat and I raced over to snap some photos. It was pitch black except for the illumination of the headlamps we were all wearing, a challenging environment to take photos in.  I used a Nikon D4 which has a full frame sensor which has a better light sensitivity to some of the other cameras available. I switched between my 50mm 1.4 and 85 1.8 and needed to keep the aperture wide open for all of the shots at 1.8 in order to allow enough light into the camera to take a photo.

There are 22 species of bats that call Grand Canyon home. Before the Grand Canyon was a National Park, it was home to many copper, gold, and uranium mines. Now these abandoned mines make excellent habitat for many bat species. Different bat species prefer different roost locations, but common roosts in the Grand Canyon include ponderosa pines, caves, human structures, and cracks in cliff sides.

The research that he Grand Canyon National Park Service is doing is largely based on identifying White-Nose Syndrome in the bat population at Grand Canyon. White-Nose Syndrome is a disease that affects and kills millions of bats at a rapid pace. Where White-Nose Syndrome is identified, bat populations are decreasing by as much as 80%. Caused by a fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, this disease is characterized by a white fungus that infects the muzzles, ears, and wings of hibernating bats.Irritation from the growth of the fungus wakes up bats during hibernation- forcing them to use the precious stores of fat and water they need to survive the winter. The main causes of death from WNS are starvation and trauma from the destruction of the wing membrane.In order to save bat populations from the massive threat of this disease, critical research must be done to understand which species are most vulnerable, where they live, and how we can protect them.

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