Bat Acoustic Monitoring at Badlands National Park

Close up of very fluffy brown bat with white tipped fur
Hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus) are one of the species detected at Badlands National Park. Their white tipped fur looks frosted or "hoary," giving them their name.

NPS/Isle Royale National Park

Overview

Badlands National Park is a 244,000-acre park in southwestern South Dakota that conserves the rugged badlands topography, rich fossil beds, and a large expanse of mixed-grass prairie. Surface water is scarce at the park, but there is bat foraging and drinking habitat at Sage Creek, a sediment-laden drainage, as well as at multiple bison stock ponds. The highly eroded badlands provide crevices that are used as roosting habitat for bats. The unique physiographic environment of the park supports a bat community very different from other parks in the Northern Great Plains Network.

The Northern Great Plains Inventory & Monitoring Network monitors bats to detect long-term trends in bat populations at the park. Twelve stationary recording stations and six mobile recording routes were established in 2014 in three areas of Badlands National Park for long-term bat monitoring: Sage Creek Road, Conata Basin, and Cedar Pass areas. Acoustic recorders detect the unique ultrasonic calls bats use for echolocation. There were 293,639 bat call recordings from stations across all survey nights from 2014–2017. The data were analyzed through specialized software programs that make preliminary identifications of the bat species based on individual call characteristics, such as frequency and shape. Some bat species make calls that are similar to other species, which is why researchers with special expertise review the calls and make the final species determinations.

An acoustic monitoring station set up by a stock pond
A bat acoustic monitoring station near a stock pond in Badlands National Park.

NPS

Highlights (2014-2017)

  • Nine species were confirmed present or probably present in the park: big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus), eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis), hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus), silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans), western small-footed myotis (Myotis ciliolabrum), little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), fringed myotis (Myotis thysanodes), long-legged myotis (Myotis volans), and tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus).
  • Big brown bats, silver-haired bats, and western small-footed myotis were recorded more often than other species.
  • Eastern red bat and tri-colored bat were new detections for the park. Listen to the call of an eastern red bat!
  • The threatened northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) was not detected in this study, though it may still be present; it was mist-netted on the park in 1999. This species has been severely impacted by white-nose syndrome and populations nationwide have decreased rapidly in recent years.
  • Acoustic recording stations near water sources or large trees recorded the most bat activity. Eastern red bats seemed to favor the park sewage ponds for foraging as their calls were detected there more than at any other station.
  • The western small footed myotis was detected most frequently in the Conata Basin area. This rugged, treeless, and arid environment particularly suits this species.
  • During mobile road surveys, areas near water and the badlands themselves had more bat recordings than areas in flat prairie. Interestingly, bats were frequently seen in the vehicle headlights foraging over the road itself. The warm asphalt road surface may attract insects that the bats are foraging on.
side view of a small light brown bat hanging upside down from a cave ceiling
Tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) were a new detection for Badlands National Park. White-nose syndrome has not yet been detected in the park's tri-colored bats, but the fungus was detected on other species at Badlands National Park in 2017.

NPS/Cumberland Gap National Historic Park

White-nose Syndrome

White-nose syndrome is a rapidly expanding fungal disease that is spreading quickly, threatening bat populations in North America. First documented in a New York cave in 2006, this disease is associated with more than seven million bat deaths. It spreads primarily from bat to bat and humans might be spreading the disease by carrying nearly invisible fungal spores on their shoes and clothing from one cave to another. See a map of white-nose syndrome in national parks and learn more about how you can help prevent the spread of this fungus.

In 2017, the fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that causes white-nose syndrome was detected for the first time in South Dakota at Badlands National Park. It was detected on one western small-footed bat and four big brown bats. This is the first time the fungus has been detected on a western small-footed bat. The northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) is one of the species of bats most impacted by white-nose syndrome. Northern long-eared bats were previously caught during a mist-netting study in 1999 at Badlands National Park, but their presence could not be confirmed in this study. Since this species has suffered a dramatic decline in recent years, it may no longer be present or may be an infrequent park visitor. Continued monitoring, and park staff and visitor observations, will help us protect the bat communities that live and forage in the park.

For More Information

Dan Licht, Midwest Region Wildlife Biologist
Protocol Contact: Northern Great Plains Network

Summary by Tani Hubbard, updated in 2018

Last updated: August 19, 2018