Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Investigating the effects of noise pollution from energy development on the bat community in the Piceance Basin
by Warner, Katherine Anne, Ph.D., Colorado State University, 2016, 112; 10149854
Abstract (Summary)

Throughout the United States, and globally, there has been recent interest in large-scale monitoring of bats, driven largely by the many threats that bats currently face such as climate change, white nose syndrome, habitat loss, and wind energy development. Additionally, many human activities generate sensory disturbances including anthropogenic light and noise pollution that have been shown to affect habitat use and foraging efficiency in bats and other wildlife. My research took place in the Piceance Basin of northwestern Colorado, where there has been considerable development of natural gas resources in recent years. During the drilling phase for natural gas, drill rigs run continuously for weeks to months at each well development site. In addition to the physical disturbance and increased human presence at the well pad, drill rigs are brightly lit, and also emit high amplitude anthropogenic noise. The light and noise from active drill rigs can travel many miles from the source, far beyond areas where wildlife habitat has been physically disturbed. The goal of my research was to isolate noise from the other associated forms of disturbance, and investigate what, if any, effects drilling noise is having on the bat community.

My dissertation is comprised of three stand-alone chapters, as follows. In Chapter 1, I test two different strategies for deploying bat detectors to determine which strategy yields higher detection and species identification rates. In Chapters 2 and 3, I present the results of noise playback experiments. Chapter 2 compares bat activity levels at control sites, and at treatment sites where noise was added experimentally. In Chapter 3, I monitor bat activity patterns both during and after a noise playback experiment to determine how rapidly activity levels recover post-exposure. A brief summary of each chapter follows.

In Chapter 1, I focus on the methods for recording bat echolocation calls, and identifying free-flying bats in the field. Unlike capture techniques, current acoustical methods for bat monitoring do not provide information about unique individuals, age, sex, or reproductive status. What acoustical monitoring can provide is information about bat activity levels, habitat use, and species identification in some cases, without interfering with bat movement, foraging, or other activities. The commercially available technology for recording bat echolocation calls has rapidly advanced, and there are many ultrasound detector–recorder systems (hereafter, ‘bat detectors’) available with a wide range of recoding options. Due to rapid attenuation of ultrasound signals, one of the challenges to acoustical monitoring is the relatively limited recording range of bat detectors. To increase this range, I took advantage of a bat detector that had the ability to record on two channels (in stereo). By attaching microphone extension cables, I was able to increase the distance between the left and right channel microphones, thereby increasing the acoustical sampling space. When this data collection effort took place, the SM2BAT+ detector from Wildlife Acoustics, Inc. was the only commercially available bat detector that had the two-channel recording capability. I deployed two identical bat detectors at each study site, and compared the recordings made using the stereo option to recordings made from a single channel.

In general, the stereo setup outperformed the single-channel systems. With the stereo microphones separated by approximately 10 m, the bat detectors that recorded in stereo produced 2.7 times more recordings overall. The increased number of recordings resulted in a higher number of calls that could be identified to species. The benefit of the stereo setup was not equal for all species. With the stereo microphones only about 10 m apart, there was some overlap between the calls that were identified on the left and right channels. The highest rate of overlap (19.5%) was in big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus ). Rates of overlap for species in the Myotis genus were all less than 5%, and none of the recordings of pallid bats (Antrozous pallidus ) were identified on both channels for the same bat-pass-event. The stereo option is a promising way to increase the number of bat recordings, which may be a particularly useful when surveying for rare species.

In Chapter 2, I used a noise playback experiment to isolate noise from other forms of anthropogenic disturbance, and monitored the bat activity level response. I recorded the sounds of an active drill rig, and played these recordings at treatment sites. I measured sound pressure levels at the drill site, and estimated the sound pressure levels at the noise playback sites. Using outdoor speakers, I was unable to project the drill rig noise at the same amplitude of an actual rig, but I was able to significantly elevate the sound levels at treatment sites. The noise levels at treatment sites roughly corresponded to noise levels that can be experienced approximately 100 m from a drill rig. This distance from a drill rig is typically beyond the well pad, in habitat that is not physically disturbed. There is widespread recognition that noise, light, and other sensory disturbances can affect the behavior and physiology of wildlife. The goal of the experiment was to determine if noise alone impacted the activity levels of bats, after being separated from the other forms of disturbance at a drilling site. I projected noise at treatment sites that were not already developed, and paired these treatment sites with control sites with no added noise. I conducted this experiment in 2013 and 2014, and present the results from 20 sites each year (10 control-treatment pairs annually).

Both years, there was an overall decrease in bat activity at treatment sites, when compared to control sites. In 2013, 8 of the 10 treatment sites had lower estimated bat activity levels. In 2014, all 10 treatment sites had lower estimated activity levels, although for some control-treatment pairs there was overlap in the credible intervals. Multiple species showed signs of reduced activity at treatment sites. For both years, M. ciliolabrum and L. cinarius had reduced activity levels at treatment sites. The response of other species was more idiosyncratic, with reduced activity in one field season, and inconclusive or no response during the other year. The species that did respond to the noise treatment have very different life histories, making it difficult to generalize about how any given species may respond to noise.

Chapter 3 focuses on bat activity level trends over time during a two period cross-over experiment. The classic two-period crossover experiment consists of two treatments (i.e., treatments ‘A’ and ‘B’), where each site is exposed to both treatments, and the order of the treatments is randomly assigned. For this study, ‘A’ refers to no added noise, and ‘B’ refers to a noise treatment consisting of the projected recording of drilling noise. A total of 12 sites were randomly assigned to the A:B sequence, and 13 sites were assigned to the B:A sequence. I acoustically monitored bat activity throughout the experiment, with particular interest in understanding the activity level dynamics post-exposure to the noise treatment. Most studies that investigate the impacts of noise on wildlife have focused on the response to noise during a noise treatment period, or noise event. Only a handful of previous studies have addressed the post-exposure period after noise ends. In these studies, noise treatments or events were relatively short in duration (a few minutes), and the corresponding recovery period was monitored over a similarly brief timeframe. My study differs in both the duration of the noise treatment (continuous noise over six days/nights), and in the duration of the post-exposure monitoring period (also six days/nights). I focused on the response of four bat species, Myotis ciliolabrum, Myotis evotis, Lasiurus cinareus, and Taderida brasiliensis.

Of the four focal species, M. evotis showed no substantial response to the noise treatment. The responses of M. ciliolabrum and T. brasiliensis were somewhat challenging to interpret. The overall activity levels of these species were lower during the treatment period in the A:B sequence, but they also had declining activity levels throughout the pre-exposure period. The activity patterns of L. cinareus provided the most convincing evidence of noise avoidance. Furthermore, L. cinareus activity levels did not show signs of recovery after the noise treatment ended in the B:A sequence. This suggests that after the six-day post-exposure period, there were still lingering effects of noise on L. cinareus activity levels. This study provides evidence that the effects of noise can linger for multiple days post-exposure. Future wildlife studies that assess periods of post-exposure could contribute meaningfully to this area of research, and aid in the development of conservation and mitigation efforts.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wilson, Kenneth R.
Commitee: Fristrup, Kurt M., Hooten, Mevin B., Knight, Richard L.
School: Colorado State University
Department: Ecology (Graduate Degree Program)
School Location: United States -- Colorado
Source: DAI-B 77/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Wildlife Conservation, Ecology, Acoustics
Keywords: Bat community, Bayesian, Energy development, Noise pollution, Piceance Basin, Playback experiment
Publication Number: 10149854
ISBN: 9781369049503
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