Bat DNA Analysis

 It’s all about poo. There have been a lot of advances in technology in the last few years that have helped us field surveyors, Night Vision, Remote recording devices, GPS, Google Earth and Street view. But the one that has probably done the most for bats is DNA analysis.

Bat DNA Analysis 0

Surveying for bats can be a bit of a dark art, if you’ll excuse the pun, we have technology to tell us when they are about at night (bat detectors) and on a clear night you can see them going in and out of a building, but as for telling exactly what type of bat they are? Well for a lot of species that you need to catch one.  So once you have one in the hand it is easy surely? Well to put it shortly no. Does that bat have a shaggy mane or not? Has it got big feet? Does it have a pointier tragus? Well those are hard enough to tell on a dead bat but a live one that wants nothing more than to get away from you (after of course giving you a couple of sharp bites to tell you not to catch them again!), it can be impossible. Then of course you have the bat that stuck in a tree crevice with only an arm or bum showing. Or worst of all the building you enter where there are tons of droppings but no bats. There are guides upon guides explaining the intimate details of bat poo but each one has large caveats:  It depends on what they were eating. Did you have a whole dropping or just part of one? Did the bat have a upset stomach when it did it? Not the most scientifically rigorous practise I think you’ll agree, and this used to be the only data we were basing our conservation and mitigation on!

DNA analysis changes that; one simple dropping can give you the ID of the bat to species level. The impact it has had in the scientific community is profound. We now have three pipistrelles instead of two (Common pipistrelle, Soprano pipistrelle and Nathusius pipistrelle) and we also have entirely new species being identified as roosting within this country (Alcathoe’s bat). These techniques are now commercially and cheaply available, we at Access Ecology Ltd use them regularly. The technology isn’t perfect; it can only identify one species per sample and as a result may lead to the incorrect identification of large multispecies bat roosts. But used properly it is an incredible tool and addition to the bat workers arsenal for ID. It more than makes up for the cost and should be essential within all European protected species licence applications. 

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