Since 2006, white-nose syndrome has caused the deaths of more than 6 million bats in North America. A number of species it affects are endangered or proposed for protection.

An inter-agency team of researchers tackled the task of monitoring bat populations affected by the disease. “The challenge is that, as a result of white-nose syndrome, you cannot monitor bats by catching them because there are too few,” said Associate Professor Mark Ford, leader of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

The team found that acoustic monitoring — listening to bats as they commute between feeding areas using echolocation — is the best method for observation since it is noninvasive and doesn’t contribute to the spread of white-nose syndrome through direct contact. “It allows for detection of species richness more quickly and over a greater area than traditional capture methods,” said master’s student Laci Coleman.

The researchers deployed acoustic bat detectors across Fort Drum, a U.S. Army facility in upstate New York and a well-known bat roosting site. They found that deploying detectors in areas likely to contain bats and moving them as needed was preferred over long-term stationary detectors, even though the method required more time.

Coleman is the lead author of a study on the most efficient placement of acoustic bat detectors that was published in the Journal of Ecology and the Natural Environment. “It is more important than ever to be able to detect them so they can be protected,” she added.

Read the full press release.