Backpacking for Bats

Carolina senior on a recent hike in Tennessee
In the summer of 2022, Grace Kinder ’24 completed her second-ever backpacking trip — and helped launch a citizen scientist study.

Kinder’s hike on the Appalachian Trail was the first of the BatPack project, a bat monitoring project along southern portions of the Appalachian Trail. Now, local hikers and volunteers can help participate in her research by strapping sound monitors to trees and tents during their hikes in order to observe the bat population.

The BatPack team uses AutoMoth recorders programmed to track bat calls from sunset to sunrise; these ultrasonic monitors can record bat signals that are inaudible to the human ear. This first-of-its-kind data will establish a baseline for the bat population in this region and then be able to track changes over time.

In addition to enjoying the BatPacking trips themselves, Kinder is excited about the preliminary results and future research that will come from her field experience this summer.

“After each hike, we download the audio files from the recorders and upload them to a special software system called Kaleidoscope, which deciphers the species associated with the sounds we’ve collected,” Kinder explained.

“Unfortunately, it is not guaranteed we will record any bats at our campsites. But during past trips, we’ve been lucky to record hundreds of ultrasonic noises. Further study of these sounds will help us distinguish the bat species present.”

Kinder pointed out the positive impacts of bat populations on the agricultural industry through eating insects and dispersing seeds — saving an estimated $3.7 billion per year.

“Working on this project not only allows me to raise awareness for bat conservation and to study these fascinating creatures, but also spend my time in beautiful rural locations of the Appalachian Mountains.”

The project is supported by the Highlands Biological Foundation and centered at the Highlands Biological Station.

Read Kinder’s complete essay in Endeavors…

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