Welcome to the latest stop on our World Tour! We’re now in Japan, after spending the last two months uploading data from Australia and New Zealand to the Bat Detective site. Firstly, a massive thanks from the Bat Detective team for all your efforts in listening to and classifying our data so far this year – thanks to the amazing efforts of citizen scientists during the World Tour as well as British Science Week back in March, we’ve got a much larger dataset of labelled bat calls to train our automated algorithms with, and the results are improving.
In the coming months we have a few more World Tour stops before we reach the end of our global bat search. This month we’re in Japan, with a new set of data uploaded to the Bat Detective site that was recorded on car-driven transects during 2010 and 2011 in locations throughout Japan: you can see where the surveys were carried out on the map shown below. We hope you’ll enjoy searching for bats in Japan, and if you have any queries just let us know via the Talk section of the Bat Detective website.
For this month’s blog post, to accompany our Japan data, we’re publishing a short piece written by iBats and Bat Detective’s founder Kate Jones during her 2010 trip to Japan, during which she collected iBats audio data and hosted training workshops for the iBats monitoring program. Scroll down below the map to start reading…
“I stare slightly queasily down at the tiny but perfectly formed green-tea plantations and rice paddies in the valley far below, as the car winds down the narrow mountain roads of the Mount Fuji highlands in Japan. We stop to try to manoeuvre around an impossibly large truck loaded with locals, and I am struck by the beauty of the mountains surrounding us, lush green forested slopes and azure blue lakes matching the skies overhead.
A crazy expansion of the iBats monitoring program over the past few months has me visiting places and people that I have only imagined. ‘What are you doing in Japan?’ asked the Japanese air attendant politely as I waited for the bathroom on my 11 hr flight to Tokyo. ‘I am hoping to develop a program with local people and scientists to monitor bat populations’, I replied carefully. ‘You see, you can use changes in bat populations like a heart monitor to check the health of nature and the impact of people on the environment’. ‘Bats?’ she squealed, ‘I LOVE bats,’ and proceeded to draw me a map of Japan marked with large crosses where I should visit to see bats. Equally unexpected was finding out at dinner on our first night given by our host, Dai Fukui, that grilled eels are actually very tasty. Especially as tempura with sesame dressing. Yum.
Stuart Parsons, sitting next to me in the car, is looking even more pale than I. Obviously the sake of the previous evening is not going well with Dai’s mountain driving. David Hill on the other hand is made of sterner stuff, alternating between calmly explaining Japanese culture to us in the back and chatting easily to Dai in Japanese in the front. Yesterday was spent exploring caves in the mountains with members of the Japanese bat group (Komori no koui) and listening to horseshoe bats bubbling and warbling over our heads.
In the evening we were introduced to a whole new concept in fieldwork, a ‘mist netting barbecue’. We left the hard work to the local experts and sat around chatting to the group while some of the students brought us mist netted bats for us to look at. The endemic tube-nosed bat (Murina ussuriensis) was especially cute — David’s favorite. Dai explains that he has found this bat hibernating in little tubes it has made in the snow in winter. We drink cold sake and ponder how this bat copes with subzero temperatures. I explain the importance of monitoring to the group and how our acoustic equipment works. Stuart displays the calls in real time from the bats flittering over our heads on his brand new iPad. Whilst outwardly dismissing this gimmick, I am secretly marveling at how Stuart is among the select few in the world that can out-geek me with Apple products.
Although bats are protected in Japan, there is no formalised monitoring of their populations and little general public awareness of the important role bats play in ecosystems. This is a fact that the bat group is trying to change with their awareness-raising activities around Japan every year, culminating in a bat festival in August. The car lurches down the mountain and I see a Bat Conservation Trust sticker on the car in front in our little convoy.
‘Are you a member?’ I ask curiously of the owner, Keiko Osawa, earlier that day, during our lunch overlooking Nagashima Dam. ‘Yes,’ motioning to her husband Yushi, ‘we like getting Bat News’. Yushi is a photographer and they seem to spend most of their time travelling the world photographing fruit bats.
‘Kate San,’ asked the secretary of the bat group Akeiko Mekosa politely. ‘How many members does Bat Conservation Trust have?’. She exclaimed in surprise when I told her over 5000, and said she struggles to get their membership up to 500. The group wants to develop an iBats project here over the next year, and hopes to raise the profile of bats and start its first national monitoring program. Stuart and I are here to help this get started, and to run a workshop on iBats monitoring, volunteer management and acoustic analysis for them.
Beside me in the car, Stuart is beginning to look more normal and is checking his photos on his new iPad just to annoy me. We chat about his plans for his iBats project in New Zealand next summer (our winter). In contrast to Japan’s forty species of bats, New Zealand only has two. Stuart bristles at my dismissive tone and says that what they lack in numbers they make up in distinctiveness.
I have to agree with him for once — New Zealand is home to the short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata) which spends most of its time in the moist fern-filled forests scampering on the ground hunting for fruit and insects. Although the iBats car-based acoustic monitoring would not be useful to monitor Mystacina as they are confined to deep forest, Stuart sees the potential for using iBats to monitor long-tailed bats (Chalinolobus tuberculatus). He has agreed to trial our new iBats application for the iPhone – you just attach your iPhone to an ultrasound detector and send the recording and GPS information straight to the iBats website. We did a test run in the Fijordland of New Zealand’s South Island in February and apart from us being bitten to death alternatively by sand flies and mosquitoes, it worked perfectly. Long-tailed bats happily flew over the car as we made our way along the transect through Lord Of The Rings country. Stuart is excited about using the technique to better understand the distribution of this threatened endemic species.
We head back up into the clouds with the help of the nice Japanese lady satnav to where we are staying tonight and holding the workshop. The workshop venue is a lodge in the highlands with traditional Japanese style rooms, where the bed is made every night from bedding beautifully folded and organised in wooden cupboards with ornate sliding doors. I’m especially excited about the tales of the Japanese bath houses, with their piping hot plunge pools fed from the surrounding hot springs.
The expansion and interest in the iBats project has been rather overwhelming over the last few months and has seen the team giving workshops in Hungary, Ukraine and most recently Russia, where the vodka flowed a little too easily but the welcome and enthusiasm for the project was amazing. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the people I have met around the world and their commitment to conserve their bats in the face of conditions much more problematic than those we face. As we stop to investigate the first bat house built in Japan, one of the group asks me where next for the iBats project. Hmmmmm, what about Australia?”