Can Desert Bats Be Tracked By GPS? Yes!

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Among the breakthroughs of modern technology and innovation, GPS remains one of the most advanced and efficient system of tracking any moving object, situated anywhere on the surface of the earth.  Besides practical uses, it has been implemented in wildlife tracking as well, something which has revolutionised the study of animal movement and their behaviour. 

However, tracking small, flying creatures such as desert bats have remained largely impossible because of the technological limitations. However, recent scientific breakthroughs have broken that barrier, as a new study from the University of Helsinki indicated.  The study was focused on the behaviour of desert bats, which found that they fly further and longer to fulfil their nightly needs. This has given researchers some important information, indicating that desert bats tend to struggle during dry periods. All of this was possible due to the new generation of micro sized satellite based tags, which allow us to delve deeper into the lives of these unique flying mammals.

About the Research

According to the study, researchers have used 1 g GPS devices to study the movement of a kind of desert bat. They are the yellow-winged bats of Africa, one of two false vampire bats in the region. They have been chosen because of their size and ability to carry the aforementioned GPS tags. Sibiloi National Park, located in Northern Kenya, was chosen as the test site to conduct the study. This also includes the shores of Lake Turkana, which is infamous for being the world’s largest desert lake. A total of 29 bats were used by researchers, 14 of them for the dry season and 15 for the rainy season. They were tracked for 30 to 60 minutes every night, which has revealed some interesting insights for furthering scientific research. 

PhD candidate at the University of Helsinki, Irene Connena, thinks it offers some valuable insight, something which would have been possible otherwise. According to her, “The responses exhibited by bats offer important insights into the responses of other taxonomic groups,” “These new miniaturized satellite-based tags now allow us to better understand how increased aridity affects bats foraging efficiency, leading us one step forward to understanding limits in aridity tolerance and impacts of climate change.”

Deserts around the world are getting warmer and as the warm desert creatures need to cope with even harsher conditions. “Understanding how animals cope with seasonal changes is key to understand how they might react to the challenges on the horizon. New technological devices, such as miniaturized satellite-based loggers, go a long way to help us in this task“.

GPS Tracking in the Study

As mentioned before, the study was conducted using 1 g GPS devices attached to the bat’s body. The bats, which were captured after dusk were then fitted with tracking equipment. It was attached to the bat’s partially trimmed fur by applying cyanoacrylate-based glue. 

Each unit attached to a bat consisted of a rechargeable GPS logger attached to a VHF transmitter, which was mainly responsible for tag recovery after the bats drop them. Each of the tags weighed 1.45g. Some bats were recaptured to detect any changes in the bat’s weight during the tracking period, as well as checking for injuries that could’ve been caused by the tag attachment. 

Other Types of GPS Tracking for Wildlife studies

GPS tracking has been used extensively by biologists, researchers as well as several conservation agencies which use them for observing fine scale movement or migratory patterns of animals. Some GPS enabled systems have high resolution tracks available, allowing researchers to control animal borne diseases such as specific strains of avian influenza. 

Depending on the animal and the purpose of the tracking, GPS tracking devices for animals can come in several forms. Some of them are described in brief below:

  • Harness Attachments: Harness attachments are normally used for animals whose neck diameter exceeds that of their head, which makes fitting any collar based device, almost impossible. These are mainly used for long-necked, large birds such as the greylag goose, as well as other animals such as pigs. 
  • Collar Attachments: Collar attachments are the widely used variant of GPS tracking devices for wildlife studies. They are usually used for primates, large cats, bears as well as in certain types of birds. 
  • Direct Attachments: Direct attachments are used in cases where collars and harnesses cannot be used, such as for birds, reptiles and marine animals. Such devices are usually attached by glue to the animal, and are designed to automatically fall off after some time. They are usually lightweight enough and do not interfere with the animal’s ability to fly or swim. 

Conclusion

GPS technology has been a breakthrough for science and technology, serving various purposes in our daily lives. Additionally it has also contributed to other fields, such as wildlife studies and scientific research. As more innovative devices are developed, the scope of GPS will only grow in the coming years.

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