SOCIAL CIRCLE — State wildlife biologist Trina Morris and interns Julia Nawrocki and Craig Bland found a bat honey hole on Cumberland Island last month.
The trio, with help from interns at the National Seashore, set up 20-foot-tall mist-nets over a small water hole on the island and caught and released more than 100 bats in one night.
“It was like bat central,” Morris said with a grin.
The processing of bat species, weights and other details that kept the researchers busy deep into the hot, buggy night is central to a State Wildlife Grants project focused on Georgia’s bats.
For more than a decade, the federal grant program has been the main funding source to help states keep common species common and protect others before they become critically imperiled and more costly to recover.
Morris, of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section, and the interns visited seven islands, netting bats and setting up routes for the Anabat, technology that identifies bats by their echolocation calls. Netting helps confirm what the Anabat records.
“It’s the beginning of a long-term project to look at yellow bats specifically and Coastal Plain bats in general,” Morris said.
The No. 1 question for yellow bats is whether low catch rates mean they are elusive or simply “there aren’t many in the landscape,” Morris explained. Researchers caught one in the seven-island trip.
Northern yellow bats are a high-priority species in the State Wildlife Action Plan, the strategy guiding DNR efforts to conserve biological diversity.
Scientists are working to learn more about this coastal bat in Georgia, including how rare it is. More information also is needed on the state’s other 15 bat species.
Bats help control insects and fill other vital roles in healthy ecosystems. Yet these flying mammals face significant threats, from habitat loss to white-nose syndrome.
White-nose has killed more than 1 million cave-dwelling bats and been documented in 17 states from Maine to North Carolina, but not Georgia.
The State Wildlife Grants project Morris is leading will build on previous surveys, plus the work of former DNR interns who examined yellow bat roosting habitats on Sapelo Island and the habitat associations of foraging bats on barrier islands.
Morris said the Anabat project also feeds into a national effort that could result in a citizen scientist monitoring network, much like the successful public-powered surveys for amphibians and birds.