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Listen to bats and help conservation!

2 October 2012

Scientists are asking for the public’s help to monitor bats across Europe and track changes in our environment by listening to bats' weirdly wonderful ultrasonic tweets on the new Bat Detective website.

The Bat Detective website created in partnership with UCL, the Bat Conservation Trust and Zooniverse allows visitors to take part in conservation by listening out for bat tweets in recordings collected over 80,000 km of roads across Europe by thousands of volunteers from the iBats programme, including bat recordings from the heart of Transylvania.

By sorting the sounds in the recordings into insect and bat calls, bat detectives will help biologists learn how to reliably distinguish bat tweets to develop new automatic identification tools.

“Bats use lots of different types of sounds, from singing to each other to find a mate, to using the echoes from their tweets to find their way around” said Professor Kate Jones from UCL and Chair of the Bat Conservation Trust.

She added: “Usually bat sounds are inaudible to humans as they are too high for us to hear, but special ‘time expansion’ ultrasonic detectors convert these sounds to a lower frequency, and visitors to the Bat Detective website can listen to these unique recordings and help us distinguish different sounds.”

One out of every four species of bats is threatened with extinction and better automatic identification tools are desperately needed to quickly process vast amounts of sound data collected by volunteers from the bat monitoring programme iBats who survey bat populations each year.

Bats are found all over the world from local parks to pristine rainforests and monitoring their population trends provides an important indicator of healthy ecosystems. Developing new tools that allow biologists to interpret population trends from sound will allow bats’ tweets to act as a way to track environmental change.

“Because of the hard work of the iBats volunteers who have collected these sounds, the UCL team were at risk of being overwhelmed”, said Chris Lintott of Oxford University who leads the team that designed and built the site. “We hope that hundreds of thousands of people will help us listen in to what the bats are saying and to also build important tools for conservation”.

In the next few months the Bat Detective team plan to expand the sounds on the site to other regions so that visitors can hear bat tweets from around the world.

Notes to Editors

For more information visit www.batdetective.org. To interview Professor Kate Jones please contact Clare Ryan in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 3108 3846, mobile: +44 07747 565 056, out of hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: clare.ryan@ucl.ac.uk.

Bat Detective was developed by the UCL Science team with the Citizen Science Alliance, which runs Zooniverse.org. Zooniverse is the world’s most successful collection of online citizen science projects, including Galaxy Zoo and the recently launched Seafloor Explorer. Bat Detective was selected by the Zooniverse team at the Adler Planetarium, Chicago and at the University of Oxford and was developed thanks to funding from the Alfred P. Sloan foundation.

iBats is an international bat monitoring programme run by UCL and the Bat Conservation Trust in collaboration with a number of national bat conservation groups. www.ibats.org.uk.

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has 24,000 students from almost 140 countries, and more than 9,500 employees. Our annual income is over £800 million. www.ucl.ac.uk @uclnews.

The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) is the only national organisation solely devoted to the conservation of bats and their habitats in the UK. A network of 100 local bat groups and more than 1,000 bat workers survey roosts and hibernation sites, and work with householders, builders, farmers and foresters to protect bats. BCT operates the National Bat Helpline on 0845 1300 228, providing advice and information on bats. www.bats.org.uk.

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