BCOMING – Bats population dynamic study: Implementation of protocol
BCOMING team in Cambodia is thrilled to share that the bats field activities have kicked off! From May 2nd to 8th, 2023, the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC) and the Forestry Administration (FA, under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery) collaborated to conduct the first field work in a selected are in Stung Treng Province. Stung Treng province, is located in northeast of Cambodia at the border of Laos at around 350 kilometers to Phnom Penh. This location has been closely monitored for potentially zoonotic viruses since 2020. During this mission, the primary goal was to capture and sample bats, with a special focus on Rhinolophus shameli individuals.
The BCOMING project presents exciting opportunities to conduct further research on bat ecology. For instance, we can investigate the population dynamics of bats in the area, as well as their foraging patterns, including how far they travel and whether they venture into human habitats. Additionally, we can explore whether bats come into contact with other animal species while roosting. During the project's inaugural field trip, the team evaluated the feasibility of various activities and ironed out the final details of protocols to gather more data on these topics.
Mark-Recapture studies are useful for estimating the size of bat populations. To conduct such studies, bats are marked in various ways and then recaptured after short intervals, either during the same field mission or in consecutive missions several weeks later. In Cambodia, the BCOMING team has marked numerous bats of different species with individual microchips placed under their skin. These bats will have the opportunity to be recaptured in June of 2023. The BCOMING project plans to implement this protocol during all field missions between 2023 and 2024, with the IPC and FA teams visiting the site approximately every six to eight weeks.
Bat acoustics provides a means of studying bat populations, enabling researchers not only to detect activity and identify species, but also to conduct experimental investigations into how environmental changes can impact bat populations. The BCOMING team has developed a protocol to explore these different aspects of bat acoustics in the Stung Treng site. Over two consecutive nights, various stationary acoustic devices were placed in different environments, including dry dipterocarp forest, plantation, village, and field, both with and without proximity to water resources. The calls activity during sunset to sunrise was recorded and will be analyzed using specialized software. Acoustics data recording will be implemented at every field mission of BCOMING in Stung Treng.
Set up of acoustic devices in Stung Treng Province, May 2023.
Finally, two camera traps were placed both outside and inside two selected bat caves. Whenever certain movements are detected, they begin to capture photographs and movies. These data will be used to track bat populations and look for any potential interactions with other animal species that can enter caves. Set up camera traps will be collecting data for more than a year.
Set up of camera traps inside and at the entrance of one cave in Stung Treng Province.
The analysis of preliminary data is currently underway and will contribute to the understanding of bat populations in this specific area, their relationship to the risk of pathogen spillover, and—most importantly—the development and implementation of successful programs for the conservation of endangered bats species.