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Home arrow Environment arrow Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World

Stakeholder Engagement and Citizen Science

Collaborative conservation is more likely to be sustainable. In communitybased conservation management, stakeholders from a variety of factions within the community are required to work together to implement effective conservation practices. This often creates unlikely partnerships that bridge normal political, socioeconomic and religious divides. For example, former rebels work with local government officials to monitor bats in southern Mindanao, Philippines, a region known for often violent stand-offs between the Philippine government and Islamic separatists (LM Paguntalan pers. comm., SOS 2012). Uniting stakeholders toward the common goal of bat conservation, however, creates collaborative programs that prove to be robust to the changes that commonly lead to the demise of wildlife conservation programs (e.g. change in political administrations).

Validity of data. A frequent concern when working with citizen scientists, is that data gathered by untrained biologists may be less accurate and obscure the signal that is being studied (reviewed in Johnson 2008). However, communitybased bat counts are perhaps a best case scenario for the use of citizen science. The data gathered are the number of bats observed, requiring just the ability to count and no other special training or equipment. Because bats, especially fruit bats, tend to aggregate, the population being counted is all in one place, by-passing many sources of error arising from sampling approaches to abundance assessment. Finally, the goal of community-based counts is detection of population trends across time, so that local communities can track impacts that hunting may be causing. Studies of count error in untrained observers show that while training and experience has a positive effect on count accuracy, counts made by untrained observers are as likely to detect population trend direction as those made by experienced biologists (Mildenstein 2012; Mildenstein and Mills 2013; Barlow et al. 2015).

Case studies. Population monitoring and roost protection for P. rufus in Madagascar provides a good example of the effectiveness of citizen science and participatory conservation efforts. Following the decline in populations of P. rufus in Madagascar from overhunting and habitat loss, the NGO Madagasikara Voakajy engaged local communities at four roost sites for the protection of the species. With the help of the local government, roost sites were designated for protection and firebreaks with bare ground areas constructed around roost sites. Local volunteers where trained to monitor the roosts of P. rufus using binoculars and hand tally counters and have continued to do so. In addition, the engagement of local people led to an interesting partnership where habitat restoration through tree planting is ongoing, while local farmers receive support through a crop seed loan system. Similarly, the local community is enforcing sustainable land use within the protected roost areas. The project organizers ascribe the success of the project to environmental education and outreach efforts, highlighting the benefits of local community engagement through citizen science and partnerships that improve local economies (Mahefatiana Ralisata pers. comm.).

In Asia, Filipinos for Flying Foxes also trains local bat stakeholders as citizen scientists. By providing these community members with the skills and experience to monitor their bat populations, the project is encouraging local stakeholders to conduct regular counts and to self-regulate their hunting pressure. So far, the project has visited more than 35 communities near to fruit bat roosts, and trained more than 200 local stakeholders in surveying and monitoring techniques. It is encouraging that after training, monitoring has continued by the local communities. Twelve communities have counted bats subsequent to training, and five of these have regularly conducted annual counts for 10 years after their training (Mildenstein 2011).

On Guam in the Mariana Islands, P. mariannus is a threatened species that must be monitored regularly by the US government under the US Endangered Species Act. Guam's last colony of P. mariannus has declined precipitously since the establishment of the invasive brown treesnake (Boigia irregularis, USFWS 2009). In the past 10 years the bats have no longer been aggregating in the historical colony location but rather are seemingly scattered in the forest, making population abundance assessments using traditional roost counting methods impossible. Given limited human resources and adherence to historical practices, biologists contracting with the US government have conducted fruit bat surveys sequentially using one or two observers from single observation sites in the forest on a survey morning. These surveys yield occasional bat sightings and location information but provide no basis on which to estimate the population size of the bats, which is essential to generate funding and motivate protective management of this formally-recognized USA national endangered species. In 2014, a different approach to surveying was initiated. Using 85 trained citizen scientists placed at observation stations throughout the forest, simultaneous observation permitted a survey of about 10 % of the forest habitat on Andersen Air Force Base. This collaborative project between the University of Guam and the U.S. Navy resulted in the first population size estimate for the threatened P. mariannus since the early 2000s. The survey also brought together local stakeholders representing 25 government and non-government organizations (including schools, environmental clubs, hunters, and local media) toward the common goal of supporting the conservation of a local endangered species (Fig. 12.4; Mildenstein et al. 2014).

Fig. 12.4 Citizen science support enabled the first population count of Mariana fruit bats on Andersen Air Force, Guam in nearly a decade. (Survey participants are showing the number of bats they counted on their raised fingers) (credit SSgt. M. White)

 
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