VOA TV – Scientists Use Radar to Study Bats, Birds and Insects

Tom Kunz puts electronic devices on bats and birds to follow their movement. Recently, the Boston University biologist started using information gathered by radar.

TOM KUNZ: “The technology has improved to the extent that we can now see things that we couldn’t see before.”

Weather experts commonly ignore radar images of birds and bats when they predict weather conditions. But Kunz says biologists can learn a lot from radar station readings.

TOM KUNZ: “From an integrated and networked dataset, we can actually determine where and when bats and birds are moving across the landscape.”
Kunz spoke at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Another speaker was Winifred Frick, who has studied bats. Both she and Kunz raised the same question.

WINIFRED FRICK: “Do you think we could estimate the number of bats in a bat cloud? Oh, sure! So that actually initiated this collaboration.”

Their work led to a method for counting masses of bats in the wild. Frick says knowing this information could help with studies of animal behavior and the seasonal movement of birds and other creatures.

WINIFRED FRICK: “We can look at the number of different sites all at once. That will give us a really good picture about the health of these populations. And this particular species, Brazilian free-tailed bats, does an enormous job for agriculture in terms of eating agricultural crop pests.”

New radar information is available to researchers every five minutes. They also can study twenty years of older information. Frick says this information can be found on the Internet.

WINIFRED FRICK: “See this whole front of bats kind of emerging here.”

Frick says the use of radar to study bats, birds and insects shows great promise. She hopes that, one day, weather reports will provide information not just about clouds, but also the clouds of bats flying from one place to another. I’m Shirley Griffith.