FIU biologist Kirsten Bohn has helped to secure endangered status for Florida’s rarest bat species.
Less than 500 of the Florida bonneted bats (Eumops floridanus) remain in the wild and the largest known population is in Miami-Dade County. The bat was granted endangered species status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in October. Bohn, who has has identified at least one roost of the bats in Coral Gables, was one of the six peer reviewers consulted by the Fish and Wildlife to designate the bat as endangered. Bohn maintains the first step to protecting this species is to gather more information through research. Bohn uses ultrasonic microphones to record the echolocation calls of this species every night.
“These bats fly very high making them almost impossible to catch,” Bohn said. “The best way of assessing this elusive species is through ultrasonic recordings of their echolocation calls. These bats use lower frequency echolocation than any other bat. The frequency is so low that we can hear them and record them using smartphones.”
Bohn has conducted research about the social behavior and communication of bats for more than 15 years.
“As of now, we do not know anything about this species – their habitat, diet, social structure, behavior, foraging range, etc.,” Bohn said. “The more we can learn, the better we can prevent their extinction. Being federally listed as endangered should result in greater funding to research the species.”
According to Fish and Wildlife, the Florida bonneted bat is threatened by habitat loss, degradation and modification from human population growth and associated development and agriculture. Other threats include its small population size, restricted range, low fertility, weather-related events, such as hurricanes and lengthy cold snaps, removal or displacement by people, and potential impacts from pesticide applications, such as exposure and impacts to insects the bat eats.
“Although higher temperatures may be beneficial, increased fluctuations in weather with record cold temperatures – even for a few days – can be fatal for this species,” Bohn said. “Also, these bats can roost in buildings, so people may be killing this species inadvertently thinking they are a more common species of bat. As an endangered species, it is illegal to kill them.”
Bohn is developing a community-based program to help determine where the Florida bonneted bats are living, their activity patterns and where currently unidentified roost sites are located. The program will consist of community “bat nights” in Coral Gables to introduce people to the bats and what they sound like using specialized equipment to detect the bat ultrasonic echolocation calls. She hopes to develop a website where the public could upload coordinates and recorded vocalizations and will serve as a collection of possible roost locations.