What Is Bat Detective?
Just in time for Halloween: Where can you hear a sound that most people never hear, teach computers a lesson, and improve scientific data on vulnerable bat populations?
Try the citizen science project Bat Detective!
Bat Detective has a challenge for you. They have collected recordings from iBats, a volunteer bat monitoring program, made with special ultrasonic detectors and slowed those recordings so that the bats are audible to the human ear.
They need you to classify the recordings and report any bat calls so that they can improve computerized systems for monitoring bat populations.
Why Is It Important?
Because bat populations are a good indicator of environmental health.
Bats are vulnerable to human impacts that might be affecting other aspects of an ecosystem in more subtle ways. For instance, they are sensitive to climate change. And their slow rate of reproduction (1 pup/year) means that they recover slowly from disturbances.
But bats do more than indicate ecosystem health; they eat some pesky mosquitoes and they are important pollinators. Recently, they have become famous for their role in pollinating agave, the primary ingredient in tequila.
Bats often live in large colonies, which makes populations susceptible to diseases. White-nose syndrome has taken a great toll on North American bats.
So, bats are important. But why can’t computers classify their calls?
Current computer programs can recognize bat calls when there is no other noise, but can’t pick out bat calls out when there is background noise. By contrast, Bat Detective has found that humans are “absolutely fantastic” at finding bat calls among the din.
Bat Detective’s main goal is not to answer a specific research question about bats, but to learn from citizen science classifications and build a better computer program for recognizing bat calls.
They will then make that program available to scientists everywhere so that it can be used to answer a variety of questions and to assist in bat conservation around the world.
How Do You Get Involved?
A brief tutorial will help you to differentiate bat sounds from other noises and to tell bats’ social calls, searching calls, and feeding calls apart. It will also guide you through the process of marking calls correctly.
If you run into trouble, you can visit the discussion forum.
Go to the Bat Detective blog for cool information about bats and updates on the data.
Try it, be a bat detective!
Is there a citizen science project that you think deserves more attention? Contact Lisa Feldkamp, lfeldkamp[at]tnc.org or leave a comment below with a link to make a recommendation for Citizen Science Tuesday.