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Ghost Fish of the Ozarks

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Published on: Feb. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

the cave's ecosystem. "There's so much nature being destroyed in the Ozarks," Salveter says. "We need to save what we can."

To learn more about cave conservation, write American Cave Conservation Association, P.O. Box 409, Horse Cave, KY 42749. Visit their web site at<http://www.cavern.org>

Technology Goes Underground

by Charlotte Overby

Ozark cavefish and other aquatic animals aren't the only imperiled creatures living in Missouri's caves. Missouri is or was home to three endangered species of bats-Indiana, gray and Ozark big-eared bats-and they need caves to survive. They use caves at various times of the year to hibernate, raise their young and seek shelter.

Thanks to the popular children's book, Stella Luna, the bat character in Disney's movie, "Fern Gully," and educational campaigns by conservation groups, bats are gaining popularity, says Bill Elliott, cave biologist for the Conservation Department.

"People are beginning to see bats as interesting, beautiful mammals that are beneficial because they eat insects," explains Elliott. "A single little brown bat, which inhabits many neighborhoods in Missouri, can eat up to 1,200 insects in just one hour."

Finding ways to save Missouri's bats is the responsibility of Elliott and bat ecologist Rick Clawson. They survey caves, gather data about bat populations and work to design steel gates over entrances to especially sensitive bat caves. They are trying to figure out why populations of some bats have plummeted. The population of Indiana bats, for example, has declined 80 percent in Missouri since 1983. Ozark big-eared bats are extirpated in Missouri; small populations live in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The Conservation Department recently applied for a $1,477 grant to help purchase 12 palm-sized data loggers. They are digital devices that measure temperature and humidity. Installed inside caves, the data loggers track the microclimate on cave walls-near where bats hibernate and raise their young. Every six months, Clawson or Elliott returns to the caves and downloads data from the data logger directly into a laptop computer. They can instantly graph climatic conditions in the cave and begin to discover how climate affects the bats.

"Bats are very sensitive to disturbance. With data loggers, we get a great deal of data without disturbing the bats during hibernation' says Clawson. We used to get just one reading, on one day, in one spot in the cave. The data loggers give us continuous data, and we'll begin to see long-term trends and changes in their habitat."

In addition to using new technology for research, Clawson and Elliott are working to keep people out of sensitive caves and to educate Missourians about caves. Disturbance by humans is a big threat to the bats' survival. Bats possess limited stores of fat in their bodies, which they need to survive while hibernating. Every time they are awakened, they use up valuable energy. If they are disturbed too many times, they won't have enough reserves to survive until spring. During summer, when females nurse and raise young, people going into caves frighten the bats and cause the mothers to drop their young. The young bats die. Females only raise one offspring per year, so populations can be decimated by just one uninformed caver or vandal.

Bat Conservation International is working around the world-including Missouri-to support bat research, educational campaigns and preservation of habitat. The organization also publishes many beautiful books, photographs, calendars and posters about bats for people of all ages. Write Bat Conservation International, P.O. Box 162603, Austin, TX 78716; or call 512/327-9721. Visit their web site at <http://www.batcon.org>

 

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