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Mapping the Bat Population in Southern California

Biology Student Charts Regional Ecosystem to Demystify Popular Understanding of Bats

Oct. 19, 2012

Woman in marshy area setting up equipment.

Lauren Dorough uses special equipment during her field work for her study about bats.

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Biological science student Lauren Dorough finds bats "incredibly fascinating," especially after studying the often-misunderstood flying mammal that serves an important role in the region's ecosystem.

During the past year, she has conducted more than 200 hours of research in the San Gabriel Valley under the guidance of faculty mentor Paul Stapp, professor of biological science. There are 16 bat species that make their home in Orange County; 25 species in California; and more than 1,100 species of bats worldwide.

This month, Dorough — a scholar in the Southern California Ecosystems Research Program — won a best poster presentation award at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) conference in Seattle.

At the "Bat Night" community event Saturday, Oct. 20, at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary, Stapp will help demystifying bats by focusing on bat biology to dispel some common misconceptions. Dorough will be assisting Stapp and will present her poster research, which provides information on the ecology and distribution of bats in the San Gabriel Valley, an area that has not been studied much to date, Stapp explained.

"The fact that so much of the basin is developed is part of the reason for that, but Lauren's work shows that several species of bats are here, including both common species and some rarer ones, and that they are able to use the remaining parks and open spaces for foraging and presumably roosting, too, " he said.

"We hope that when her sampling and analyses are complete, we will have a better understanding of the local and landscape-scale conditions in Southern California that influence the activity and diversity of this under-appreciated group of mammals, which could lead to better monitoring and conservation efforts."

Dorough, of Walnut, is studying biodiversity, ecology and conservation biology while working to complete the bat study and thesis project. She plans to graduate in May, then pursue a doctorate in ecology and a career as a field ecological researcher.

Why are you interested in bat research?

Bats are amazing animals and are really important to our ecosystem because they are one of the primary predators of nocturnal insects. What really fascinates me about bats is their use of echolocation for prey capture and navigation through their environment. Using echolocation, a bat can receive information about the location of a target that is one meter away in 6/1000ths of a second and can detect something as thin as a human hair!


How did you get involved in the bat project?

I got involved in this project through the Southern California Ecosystems Research Program with Dr. Stapp as my mentor. While discussing possible project ideas, he mentioned that he had a bat detector (equipment that can pick up on the high-frequency echolocation calls that bats emit during flight) and suggested that we could incorporate it into a research project. I was sold! From that point on, we began developing the project.

What is the focus of your project?

My project looks at how the activity levels and diversity of bats in Southern California differ between sites in the San Gabriel Valley with varying levels of human impact. This area of California is highly developed and contains very little remaining natural vegetation. The way that bats are affected by the urbanization of their natural habitat is interesting because not only do they have the ability to fly between habitat fragments, but also some species are actually able to take advantage of man-made structures, such as buildings and bridges for roosting locations.

Where did you conduct your study?

I chose four sites in the eastern San Gabriel Valley with varying landscape characteristics to carry out my study. These four sites are Robert J. Bernard Biological Field Station in Claremont, Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas, South Hills Country Club Golf Course in West Covina and Industry Hills Golf Course in Industry.

On each night of data collection, I would set up the bat detector at sunset and record the calls of bats flying overhead for four hours. I visited each site 10 times between March and August of this year. Next, I took the data that I recorded from each sampling night and used "SonoBat" software to identify the bat calls to species. I was able to do this because each species of bat has its own characteristic echolocation call.

What interesting things have you found?

The results of my project have been quite interesting. We found a strong presence of a few species that are known to be associated with urbanized environments. Bats such as the free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) and the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) can use man-made structures for roosting (such as bridges and buildings).

We also detected the presence of bats that are not typically found in urban environments such as the hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus), silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans) and western red bat (Lasiurus blossevillii). The site where we expected the most activity — Bernard Field Station — ended up having a lower activity level compared to the other sites.

Our measures of diversity showed that there were no differences across the sites. This suggests that all of the bats that I recorded are capable of using these different locations for foraging in the evening. A big factor that may have affected how active the bats were at each site was how far each site was from a nearby suitable roosting location.

How has this project enhanced your undergraduate experience?

Being involved in the SCERP program has completely changed my life. I network on a daily basis with students and faculty in my department and I feel like I have a sense of community in the field of ecology. Being in this scholar program has allowed me to not only develop this research project, but also to attend local and national conferences, prepare for graduate school and plan my career goals. I would not be as successful as I have been in the past year if it were not for the SCERP program.

How do you hope your research helps local bats?

This research contributes information about how bats are affected by changes in their habitat due to urbanization. It allows us to further understand the ecological value of nontraditional habitat for these bats. The project can help to identify how open spaces can provide things that bats need to survive, such as sufficient insect populations, fresh water and suitable roosting locations.

Should we need to take measures to conserve the bats in Southern California in the future, my research will serve as a contribution of information that will help in these conservation efforts. When it comes to conservation concerns, having knowledge of how bats utilize an environment that has been highly impacted by humans is a crucial factor.

What are some of the benefits of working with CSUF faculty?

Dr. Stapp is a great mentor and is so knowledgeable about mammals and the field of ecology. He has helped me to come up with new ways of exploring the data that I have collected and to draw ecological meaning from it. What I like the most about working with Dr. Stapp is that he has high expectations of me and has challenged me to put my best into everything I do for this project.

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

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