Summer bat survey taking place in northern Greenville County

TRAVELERS REST, S.C. — If you have seen a S.C. Dept. of natural Resources truck slowly riding down a rural road about an hour after sundown this summer, it may be part of a cooperative research project that is surveying bat populations across the state, including in northern Greenville County.

The Carolinas Acoustic Bat Project, a cooperative research project taking place in both South Carolina and North Carolina, is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Researchers drive carefully specified routes two consecutive nights with a recording device mounted on the cab of their trucks. The 20-mile routes must be driven at 20 m.p.h. in order to capture the data accurately. The recordings are then analyzed to determine which species of bats were heard and how abundant they were.

(Red line indicates northern Greenville County route. Click image to enlarge.)

"It's very exciting to start this acoustic sampling," said Mary Bunch, wildlife biologist and bat expert with the SCDNR. "The goal is to establish these routes and perhaps add more routes in areas that haven't been surveyed."

Bats are an essential, beneficial part of ecosystems, according to Bunch. Bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects, including many crop and forest pests, consuming over half their body weight in insects each night. Bats currently face a serious threat in White-Nose Syndrome, a disease that has caused catastrophic declines in hibernating bats.

"Bats are notoriously difficult to study because they are active at night, can detect nets and traps, and, of course, they can fly and often are fairly secretive when roosting," said Clemson University graduate student Ben Neece, who is heading up the project. "Most of their vocalizations cannot be heard without the aid of electronic equipment, so the acoustic survey routes will allow us to effectively monitor these elusive animals."

Motorists are advised to please be patient if you end up driving behind one of these surveys. If researchers stop to let you pass or deviate from 20 m.p.h., it disrupts the data collection, potentially ruining the entire night's work.

Partners in the Carolinas Acoustic Bat Project include SCDNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Clemson University, the U.S. Forest Service Southern Experimental Station and the National Wildlife Refuge System.

To learn more about the bat monitoring project, click here.