by Ali Mackisack
“When it comes to biodiversity, sometimes finding out what isn’t there, is just as important as finding out what is there,” says Sam Rammell, a Master’s student in Ecological Restoration at Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington.
“Sometimes, if people don’t see or hear whatever it is they’re looking for, then they won’t record that data. But not finding that bird or plant, in that place and at that time, is valuable information in itself and can lead to some good questions. Should it be there? What makes us think it would be? And if it ‘should’ be there, then why isn’t it? What’s going on in this place, at this time, which means it hasn’t been found?”
As he said this, he was walking through the bush at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, part of a team putting out acoustic monitors to record any calls of long-tailed bats (pekapeka-tou-roa/Chalinolobus tuberculatus) in the area. Alongside him was fellow student Ellen Carlyon, a key member of this group who is also involved in bat studies across the wider Wellington Region. In one of those lovely collaborations which are a feature of our conservation community, the group was pulled together by Sustainable Wairarapa Inc (SWI) but also involves the two students, Pūkaha Biodiversity Manager, Christine Reed, and a few interested locals.
No bat calls were detected this time round. But a single recorded bat call, detected in the reserve last year, gives the team hope that more will be picked up when the area is surveyed again over summer. The project is part of a wider SWI initiative to establish a clearer picture of the biodiversity in the Wairarapa and follows on from bird, bug, and lizard monitoring.
“The Wairarapa has never been systematically surveyed for long-tailed bats,” says Jim O’Malley of SWI. “So Sustainable Wairarapa teamed up with Friends of Rewa Bush to undertake a survey of our region for both long- and short-tailed bats. So far we’ve detected bat activity both in bush fragments and in the main ranges, on private and public land.”
Publicity around the monitoring has raised people’s awareness of where bats may be found, and some locals have suggested sites on private land. “So far, whenever we’ve gone looking, we’ve found activity in over half of these locations,” says Jim. And not just low levels either – there’s been significant activity in some of these places.”
Pūkaha is a good bet for bat activity because of its extensive, ongoing predator control, its proximity to the ranges, and its big old trees that could potentially be roost sites.
“But this bat isn’t restricted to larger areas of original forest like the short-tailed bat,”says Jim. “The long-tailed can occur in farmland, pine forest and native forest fragments, and they change roost trees often. Also, they can travel up to 25 km per night from the roost looking for food on the wing.”
So that opens up a tantalising possibility…might there be bats in your local bit of bush? Should there be?
Anyone who would like to volunteer for bat monitoring adventures, or who thinks they have bats on their property, can contact firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was first published in Wairarapa MidWeek, 24 November 2021