Conservation Success Stories: OKC Zoo is Batty for Conservation

Here at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, we’re batty about the importance of conserving the world’s wildlife and wild places. In 2020, the Zoo raised over $220,000 to benefit local and global conservation efforts as part of its Round Up for Conservation initiative. Through individual guest contributions, Round Up for Conservation funds helped cultivate 10 conservation success stories in 2020. Of those 10 stories, one effort focused on the study of bat biodiversity and conservation.

Bats provide many services to Oklahoma’s diverse ecosystems, including plant pollination and reducing insect populations. Twenty-six different species of bats are native to Oklahoma. Because insects are their main food source, bats act as nature’s pest control. In fact, a single bat can consume 1,200 mosquitos in one hour!

Bats are found all throughout Oklahoma and have experienced population decline as a result of habitat loss and climate change. Bats are an indicator species, meaning that by measuring their population health, conservationists are able to assess an area’s environmental health. Determining environmental health by indicator species can be achieved by observing and recording factors like population growth, population decrease and population density. Therefore, regular studies of the state’s native bat populations are crucial for understanding the health of Oklahoma’s ecosystem in the midst of these ongoing threats. For several years now, Zoo staff has partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) with an annual bat biodiversity survey every August.

In 2020, the Zoo received an urban ecology grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation to fund a bat survey at the park located on the other side of Zoo lake. Data is lacking for bats that inhabit forested and wetland habitats in Oklahoma, making this lakeside location a useful study site. Stationary acoustic recording units were used to assess population status, distribution and the foraging habits of native bats. Acoustic monitoring surveys record bat echolocation calls to efficiently monitor bat populations to identify areas of high bat activity.

Because of COVID-19 safety precautions, mist netting could not be conducted in conjunction with acoustic monitoring in 2020.  Mist nets are used by ornithologists and bat biologists to gather wild birds and bats for banding or other research projects. Mist nets are typically made of nylon or polyester mesh suspended between two poles, resembling a volleyball net. When properly deployed in the correct habitat, the nets are virtually invisible.

The bat biodiversity study lasted approximately one month in summer 2021. Scientists detected 788 identifiable echolocation calls from 9 different species of bats. 94% of bats whose echolocation calls were recorded and identified were red bats, evening bats and Mexican free-tailed bats. The data from the survey will be used to contribute to the overall understanding and conservation of Oklahoma’s bat populations.

Additionally, this information will be used to develop educational programming at Camp Trivera, the Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma’s new STEM education camp located across Zoo lake. Girl Scouts will be trained to continue to monitor bats acoustically in the area and directly contribute to bat conservation.

Are you a fan of wildlife? For more information about the Zoo’s conservation efforts and how to get involved, click here

- Dr. Rebecca Snyder, curator of conservation and science

Posted by Sabrina Heise at 08:30
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