Project Akustika – An ecological investigation of bat species in the Maltese islands

Recently members of the MCC were invited to an information session with Green House MT, a local environmental NGO that carries out invaluable research. One of their current projects, Akustika, is all about BATS! As climbers we sometimes come across these furry fliers, either hidden in crevices on our climbs, or flying over hour heads devouring mosquitoes.

Common Pipistrelle
Common Pipistrelle – photo provided by Green House MT

 

Bat Survey – read here if you encounter bats whilst out climbing!

The following is a survey is tailor-made for climbers and outdoor adventurists who may encounter bats during their activities. We encourage the reporting of any confirmed or suspected bat roosts as this will contribute to our knowledge of the preferred roosting habitat of different species, their population numbers and status. We would like to thank the Malta Climbing Club for accepting our proposal for collaboration and hope to hear from you all! Form can be accessed and shared here: https://forms.gle/RFtWwuxPu6heyhBa9  

Best practice recommendations: All bat species in Malta are highly protected and any disturbance is punishable by law. We recommend you avoid the winter season for cave explorations, use red light and refrain from flash photography should approach a bat roosting habitat, if you must. Your body heat is enough to wake up a hibernating/roosting bat, therefore please exit the site as quickly as possible should you encounter one. Handling of bats without a license is strictly forbidden.

Green House would like to enlist our help with their citizen science project:

Project Akustika aims to improve local knowledge of bat species within the Maltese community by using scientific evidence. Bats are highly interesting species for scientists, as they provide control of various agricultural pests (by consuming flies, moths and beetles), are important bioindicators of ecological status (being the top predators of their food chain) and present highly specialised evolutionary adaptations (most of which are not fully understood yet).
 
Citizen science – the direct involvement of non-scientists in scientific research – is at the heart of our project. Since its launch in August 2018, Akustika has recruited more than 200 citizen scientists, who have contributed to our research by providing logistical support, helping in data collection, data validation and developing outreach materials as a few examples.
 
Akustika is designed to fill knowledge gaps on local bat species and set the first steps towards gaining an overview of what bat species are present, their distribution and status through long-term monitoring systems. We hope that this will encourage authorities to consider bats in large-scale land development, urban planning, site designation and holistic environmental conservation. The project is contributing to the scientific knowledge of these species through standardised, publicly-accessible methods which allow repeated surveys over the years and within different habitats, supporting future research into these areas, and presenting bat ecology as a valuable research activity to both the scientific community and the general public.
 
Our activities include acoustic bat surveys in urban areas – using a bat detector to record bat activity in selected sites of seven urban localities in Malta. This has been highly successful in involving citizen scientists directly, by collecting data for the project. The project has also organised mist-netting sessions : the capture and sampling of bat species, for detailed genetic analysis. These activities were done under license by qualified bat ecologists, with the assistance of 50+ volunteers who could experience the research method and help in hands-on activities. 
 
We also organise regular public and private bat walks, talks, stakeholder workshops, kid’s workshops and social media campaigns with the aim of sensitising the general public to these species and raising awareness about our work and local conservation efforts. The response to these events has been substantial, and we are highly encouraged to continue in our drive to bring bats to the forefront of wildlife conservation discussions in Malta and Gozo. 
Akustika is part of the Malta Biodiversity Monitoring Network (MABIMO) and is a collaborative effort between Green House (Malta), BINCO (Belgium), SWILD (Switzerland), the Malta Natural History Museum and Malta Bat Conservation Society. All relevant activities are held under permit by the Environment and Resources Authority.
To learn more about what we do or to join our surveys, you can email green.uom@gmail.com or find us on our Facebook Page, Facebook Group, Instagram or Website.
Gaisler's Long-Eared Bat
Gaisler’s long eared bat – photo provided by Green House MT / – Nicholai Xuereb

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