Conservation leaders from Canada, Mexico and the United States sign the historic bat conservation Letter of Intent. Photo by Chris Tollefson/USFWS

Bats to Benefit from North American Agreement

North American bats got a major boost last month in the form of an international Letter of Intent, signed by the US, Mexico, and Canada, to improve coordination of efforts to conserve bat populations. Recognizing the growing threats to bats, including white-nosed bat syndrome, habitat loss, and wind turbines, the agreement aims to increase cooperation among the three countries in monitoring populations and sharing conservation best practices. These three countries have worked together in the past to protect a select few species of bat, but this agreement dramatically expands the focus to include all of the more than 150 North American species. Such coordination is critical to the conservation of migratory species that migrate across national borders, or with ranges in multiple countries.

The signing was a highlight of the recent annual meeting of the Canada/Mexico/U.S. Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management and comes at a time when bat populations across North America are increasingly threatened by the disease white-nose syndrome. See more about the signing on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website and on its Open Spaces blog.

The agreement explicitly emphasizes the importance of improving acoustic monitoring techniques for bats and expanding their implementation. By setting up microphones that record bat calls, researchers can tell which bats are living in different locations and habitat types, and how this changes over time. The Institute of Ecology at UNAM, a JRS grantee, is developing a nationwide acoustic bat monitoring program for Mexico, the Sistema Mexicano de Monitoreo Acústico (SIMMA). JRS has funded a pilot project at the Institute to test protocols at a small number of sites, and demonstrate the potential of conducting acoustic monitoring on a larger geographic scale than has ever been conducted. The pilot also puts the Institute at the forefront of methods development in this type of monitoring: enabling them to use the very latest in bioacoustic technology and create and test software that can learn to recognize different bat calls from recordings. The protocols developed by the Institute of Ecology will link with those used in the other countries, providing consistent, high-quality, monitoring coverage across the entire continent. Acoustic monitoring data will offer a much clearer picture of which bat species are where, and at what times, facilitating conservation planning.