by Rory Gibb, Bat Detective



This year’s citizen science theme for British Science Week involves all things bat-related, and at Bat Detective we're very excited to be one of British Science Week’s citizen science partners.

A little bit about Bat Detective

Bat Detective was founded in 2012 with the goal of developing new tools for bat conservation. Since then over 4,000 volunteers have helped us to listen for bats’ distinctive echolocation calls in thousands of audio recordings. It’s easy to get involved — you can visit the Bat Detective website to start searching straight away.

During British Science Week we’re hoping that many new citizen scientists will get involved, and help us to reach our target of 100,000 classifications over the course of the week. 


Why should we help bats?

Why should we be interested in studying and conserving these fascinating but often misunderstood creatures? As well as being amazing animals, with incredibly specialised sensory systems that allow them to navigate the world using sound, bats also do many things that are useful for people — such as controlling insect pests and pollinating crops such as tequila, banana and cocoa. Yet around one-fifth of the world’s bat species are threatened with extinction, due to pressures such as habitat loss and disease.

To understand how to target conservation efforts, we need to monitor how bat populations are changing in response to these threats: where are they increasing and where are they decreasing, and why? That’s where the Bat Detective team’s research comes in. Although most bats are nocturnal, making them challenging to study visually, most species use high-pitched calls (echolocation) to navigate, to socialise, and to hunt for prey. This means that we can monitor them through sound, using audio recording devices called bat detectors. Over the last decade volunteers on our iBats project have collected thousands of hours of audio recordings from bat surveys across the globe. In fact, they've gathered so much data that we need to develop new tools to analyse them.


Creating the perfect algorithm

The Bat Detective team are developing new software to automatically detect bat calls in audio recordings, and to identify what species they come from. To do this we need to show our software algorithms lots of examples of what different bat calls sound like. That’s where we’re asking for your help!

When you visit the Bat Detective site you’ll be asked to listen to a short clip of audio, and to tell us whether you’ve found any bat calls. Each bat call you find and classify will help to improve our software. To date, our volunteers have found over 11,000 bat calls, and we’ve been getting great results so far — you can visit the Bat Detective blog to read a recent research update.

How will all of this help with bat conservation?

1.Your classifications will help us develop the tools to analyse our own long-term acoustic bat survey data. We can then use these to better understand how populations of a variety of bat species, in the UK and Europe and further afield, are responding to changes in the environment. This can then help scientists and conservation organisations to better identify the species, regions and habitats most in need of protection. More broadly, the tools we’re developing could then also be used by other researchers to help improve bat population monitoring worldwide. 

2. Because bats are so sensitive to human impacts, several scientists have also suggested that bat populations could act as ‘bioindicators’ — early warning systems that give us some indication of how human activities are affecting the natural world as a whole. So as well as helping to improve bat conservation, our research may also provide us with valuable information about how the world’s ecosystems are more broadly being affected by pressures like climate change and habitat loss. 


We hope that people will enjoy helping us search for bats throughout British Science Week 2016!

Learn more about Bat Detective and our research.

Find a British Science Week event near you, download our activity packs or quizzes.