SISH faculty Kirsten Bohn explores social communication of rare bat

More than 100 volunteers gathered in late July at the Coral Gables’ Granada Golf Course to listen to Kirsten Bohn explain what rare Florida bonneted bats look and sound like. The bat species, which considers South Florida home, is critically endangered.

“We were hearing these sounds and people assumed they were insects,” said Bohn, a biologist at Florida International University. “The majority were people who lived right here had no idea that there were bats here.”

Since then, a team of citizen volunteers, enlisted by Bohn and her research assistant Giselle Hosein, have worked to save the bat’s habitat in Coral Gables. For their efforts, the squad will be recognized Nov. 5 by the South Florida Association of Environmental Professionals. The group, known as the “bat squad,” will receive the Leadership in Environmental Achievements and Foresight (LEAF) award for its outreach efforts using social media and crowd-sourcing.

The high-flying bonneted bats have long evaded scientists’ attempts to catch them, although they vocalize at a low frequency that humans can hear. As a result, very little is known about them, including where they roost or how long they live.

“Getting all this initial information from as wide an audience as possible is critical to help promote conservation of these bats,” said Michael McCoy, vice president of the environmental professionals’ group. “Being able to identify where bats are observed, where they roost, where they like to feed — all of that is critical information in order to develop management recommendations to protect the bat and enhance its habitat.”

The award will be presented two months after one of the bat squad’s volunteers discovered, for the first time, a bonneted bat roost — in a vacant house in Coral Gables. Bohn, whose specialty is the social communication of this family of bats, confirmed the bats were indeed the trumpet-eared, endangered Eumops, and alerted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials.

Since the discovery, Bohn and other volunteers have recorded more sound and video at the roost, after getting approval from the house’s owner.

More recently, the squad has been able to expand the map of locations where the Eumops are flying. This was all done without funding, with the exception of the use of FIU research equipment, said Bohn.

“I think it’s really amazing that they’re getting recognized,” she said. “It’s such a great combination of community and science and technology.”

“We would not have been able to do this without the volunteers in the Miami bat squad,” Hosein said.

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