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For ‘Bat Week,’ conservation efforts at Shaw Nature Reserve take center stage

Missouri’s native bats are insectivores, which is one reason they are so important to our ecosystem.
Cassidy Moody
Missouri Botanical Garden
Missouri’s native bats are insectivores, which is one reason they are so important to our ecosystem.

Bats are one of nature’s most effective insect controls. Each night, the winged mammals use sound to navigate through forests, and they eat mosquitos, moths and caterpillars that feed on Missouri’s oak trees.

This week is Bat Week, an international celebration of the mammals that highlights the need for their conservation. The Missouri Botanical Garden’s Shaw Nature Reserve is home to many species of bats, including the federally endangered Indiana bat — first discovered in 2017.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske discussed some of the bat management activities with Missouri Botanical Garden ecologist Calvin Maginel.

Since the Indiana bat is a federally endangered species, conservation efforts at the reserve ramped up.

“We've been able to increase our capacity,” Maginel said. “One of the major projects that we're working on is actually focusing on creating better bat habitat along the Meramec River.” That includes creating snags (dead standing trees) with prescribed fires and actively cutting down trees in areas with thick forestry to make it easier for bats to fly through.

For ‘Bat Week,’ conservation efforts at Shaw Nature Reserve take center stage

“We're also focusing a lot on invasive species management because invasive species can really change the character of an ecosystem and the quality of the food sources that are utilized. So if you have a monoculture of say, bush honeysuckle, you probably don't have as many native insects that are then flying around at night — which obviously can then affect what types of things the bats are able to eat,” Maginel added.

Maginel’s bat conservation efforts include working alongside Vona Kuczynska, a wildlife biologist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. She also joined the program to talk about her research that involves placing a series of acoustic detectors in the Shaw Nature Reserve to capture audio signatures of various bat species. That helps inform the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s guidelines and best management practices when development projects could impact endangered species.

“Because Shaw has such a nice diversity of bats and because it has a colony of these endangered bats, we can use Shaw as one of our sample points to decide and study how long it takes to actually pick up a bat using this special bat detector,” Kuczynska said.

Most of the time, humans can’t hear bats’ echolocations.

“We have to use devices that are equipped with a special microphone that can detect ultrasonic sound. And so what that device does is record that call, and then we can convert it into something that you can hear by slowing it down a lot,” Kuczynska explained.

“The echoes coming from the bat are used to navigate through a woodland to know where a tree is, or they might be used to find an insect. So they're producing those sounds all night long as they're flying," she said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.