Citizen science project spreads the word about Irish bats

Dr Emma Teeling of UCD with an example of a myotis species bat. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien

Bat Conservation Ireland, Batlab ask the public to collect bat droppings to assess ecosystem services

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30 July 2021 | 0

Bat Conservation Ireland and UCD’s Batlab have announced the launch of BatsAndBugs.ie, a collaborative project, supported by The Community Foundation for Ireland and National Parks & Wildlife Service.

As part of the project, researchers will invite members of the public who have bats on their property to contribute to this citizen science project by collecting droppings to send to the UCD Batlab.

The project aims to explore the ecosystem services (the benefits to humans provided by the natural environment and healthy ecosystems) that bats provide to us. A core aim of this initiative will be to identify how bats are helping to control insect pests in Ireland. 

 

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UCD Earth Institute member and head of UCD Batlab, Prof Emma Teeling is UCD’s lead researcher on the project. “I’m so excited by the launch of this dynamic project,” said Prof Teeling. “There is so much information in bat poop! Using state-of-art DNA technologies on bat droppings collected by our team of citizen scientists, we are going to uncover what bats eat, to identify the pests they feed on and to show how Irish bats maintain the balance in our ecosystems, for our benefit. Please join us and help us understand the beneficial role that bats play in Ireland.”

Dr Niamh Roche of Bat Conservation Ireland added: “Bat Conservation Ireland’s work has been helped immeasurably by thousands of members of the public who have not hesitated to pitch in to our schemes for monitoring and detecting bats across the island of Ireland. With this project we are asking for help from those who play a key role in Irish bat conservation – custodians of bat roosts. By participating they will find out more about the species of bat they host along with information on what kinds of insects bats feed on in their area.”

The Batlab at UCD will study the droppings using state-of-the-art DNA metabarcoding techniques, to identify the bat species and what the bats have been eating. Until the advent of DNA analysis, discerning what bats ate involved staring down microscopes for hours while trying to identify tiny pieces of insects, which is time consuming. Now experts use DNA markers to identify the prey species in droppings in the laboratory, allowing results to be much more accurate.

Ireland has nine species of bats and they are all insectivorous. They eat a range of invertebrates including spiders, moths, dung flies and beetles and the ecosystem services they provide to humans include seed dispersal, pollination, and pest control.

In the recent heatwave Ireland experienced, these bats were readily spotted over houses, fields, hedgerows, and waterways feasting on the prolific numbers of midges, mosquitos and other biting insects that interfere with our enjoyment of warmer evenings and nights.

However, bats are threatened by habitat loss, climate change and insecticides. The consequences of losing bats could be enormous, so it is vital we gain a better understanding of what bats eat, how much they eat and where.

Instructions on how to obtain these samples, along with information on how to register, can be found on BatsandBugs.ie.

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