Citizen scientists gain a tool to map bat calls

A new online tool will help researchers classify and track various bat species across Europe. Researchers from the Zoological Society of London selected 1,350 calls of 34 species and analysed them to find the characteristics that were most useful in distinguishing between species.

“The most useful parameters were then used to train artificial neural networks and build the identification tool,” said Charlotte Walters, a biodiversity scientist at the Zoological Society of London who was involved in the project.

Some of the characteristics include the maximum and minimum frequency of a particular call, how quickly the frequency changes and how long a call lasts.

The tool, called iBatsID, is discussed in the current issue of The Journal of Applied Ecology. The iBatsID tool will be used by 1,000 citizen scientists who are part of a project called iBats. The participants live throughout Europe and will use bat detectors to record the ultrasonic calls of bats. The new tool will now help them, and researchers, map the calls.

“The tool outputs a probability for each species,” Walters said. Most species can be identified more than 80 percent of the time. Looking at bats offers important information about biodiversity. “Bats are like a heart monitor for the environment,” Walters said. “If bat populations are declining, we know that something is wrong.” Other researchers from the Zoological Society of London are working on a similar tool to help identify bats in North America.

Snails appear reborn, or were overlooked

A freshwater snail has been rediscovered on the Cahaba River in Alabama, 12 years after it was declared extinct.

Nathan Whelan, a graduate student in biology at the University of Alabama, spotted the snail – called the oblong rocksnail, or Leptoxis compacta – on a small stretch of the river.The rocksnail, about the size of a nickel, with a yellow body and a black band on its head, once had a range of about 50 miles along the Cahaba, but it was in major decline by 1935. 

In 2000, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared it extinct. But Whelan, whose doctoral research is on snails, had a hunch that it might still be out there.

“It never really made sense to me, why this particular species went extinct when all these other species found in the same stretch of the river are still there,” he said.The Cahaba River is home to many species of fish and mussels, and 32 other species of snails. So Whelan took his friends kayaking in search of the snail. “I said, ‘Let’s spend a day looking, and in the worst-case scenario we spend a day kayaking,’” he said.

They found rocksnails along a stretch, and collected about 30 specimens to study in the lab. The findings appear in the current issue of the journal PLoS One. Whelan hopes that the snails can be bred in captivity and reintroduced in one or two other places along the river.

“Right now a single pollution event could cause the extinction of the whole species,” he said.

Sindya N BhanooNew York Times News Service

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