Professor Chambers Leads Nicaraguan Bat Expedition--And Discovers Rare Bat


Carol Chambers, Professor of Wildlife Ecology in Northern Arizona University’s (NAU’s) School of Forestry, is passionate about protecting bats. This year she organized a team of 16 volunteers from the United States and Canada to study bats on the Central American isthmus between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific Ocean. This 12-mile stretch of land, with its once dense forests, is becoming increasingly fragmented, and Chambers was very concerned how the changing habitat was affecting bat populations.

During the 10 weeks Chambers was in Nicaragua, she and the other researchers netted, documented, and released nearly 1,800 bats representing 49 species. They also extended ranges for at least three of these species. But Chambers’ most remarkable discovery came on the first of her two visits: She caught the rare pale-faced bat Phylloderma stenops, one that her Nicaraguan colleague Arnulfo Ramon Medina Fitoria had been trying to find for 11 years. The large bat, with its short brown fur and long, gray, white-tipped wings, was a new recorded species for the country.

Bat discovery 225
NAU Professor Carol Chambers, right, and bat expert Arnulfo Ramon Medina Fitoria netted, measured, weighed, and documented the only Phylloderma stenops bat ever captured and recorded in Nicaragua.

In addition to catching bats in mist nets stretched above streams and rivers, Chambers organized an Anabat workshop that trained two students and one professional biologist in the use of Anabats (echolocation-recording devices). The students then placed Anabats throughout the forest to record and monitor sounds from different bat species.

During her second visit, Chambers placed radio tags on forest-dwelling bats and documented roosts for three bat species. This radio telemetry and the acoustic work may help scientists understand how bats like Phylloderma stenops use forests.

While she was in Nicaragua, Chambers also participated in a local bat conservation campaign to help residents appreciate the ecological benefits that bats provide, such as eating harmful insects and pollinating forest plants. Many Nicaraguan farmers mistakenly think bats kill or sicken livestock.

Artibeus jamaicensis bat

Bat conservationists like Chambers hope that by understanding more about these flying mammals, local people will be on board with protecting the forest lands that are their home. "The existing patches of forested land are helping forest bats maintain a foothold in this region, but they need to be larger and more connected on the Paso del Istmo," Chambers said.

--Sylvia Somerville