Channel Islands

Studying Bats to Assess an Island’s Recovery




​​CSU Channel Islands’ (CSUCI) research station on Santa Rosa Island is a university treasure. The island, about 45 miles off the Ventura County coast, is part of Channel Islands National Park. CSUCI students of all disciplines have the chance to travel to the island to conduct research projects while experiencing its beauty and wonder. 

After being used for ranching and hunting for 154 years, the island is now returning to wilderness. Santa Rosa is believed to be home to about eight bat species, though the California bat is the only confirmed species breeding on the island. Bats are an indicator species for ecosystem health, so understanding how the island’s bat populations change over time will help shed light on the island’s recovery. 

Under the direction of CSUCI mathematics professor Jason Miller, biology major Karissa Rico and mathematics major Krista Beck studied the island’s California bat population as part of the university’s summer undergraduate research program. 

“Once upon a time, a biology major could graduate with a bachelor’s degree with little or no mathematics on their college transcripts. And a math major could get a job without any knowledge of how math is thoughtfully used in real-world situations. Times have changed,” Miller noted. “The study of bats is a natural playground for getting undergraduates to learn in an interdisciplinary way and appreciate the skills each discipline brings to the effort.” 

Beck said, “When I first applied, I was extremely curious about what math had to do with bats. I was very interested in learning the different applications for math in naturally occurring ways.” 

​She and Rico used modern, nondestructive technology to learn more about this seldom-seen species. 

Because bats use ultrasonic echolocation to forage for insects at night, the students used special ultrasonic detectors to locate and identify bats based on their echolocation calls. Two types of ultrasonic bat detectors were used to collect data. Researchers on foot at night used an active detector to identify foraging bats. Once foraging areas were identified, a passive detector was deployed to record activity from sunset to sunrise. 

Specialized software measured the animals’ chirps. Chirp patterns were then compared to those of various bat species, and the California bats’ chirps were singled out for analyses. 

​​​​​The data the students collected will help build a library of Santa Rosa Island bat calls for future use by researchers. 

“I did not know much about bats before this research and now I spend my time reading books on bats,” Rico said. “I want to become a professor and focus my research on the conservation of bats and show the public how important they are to our ecosystem.” 

Beck added, “Doing this research has made me discover how truly passionate I am about environmental science and the many ways math is used in the different aspects of it.”