The Official News Resource for Humboldt State University
Sunday, April 16, 2004

Szewczak Wins $673,000 Bat Grant

(Published on on Friday, April 16, 2004 - 12:29 PM)

Humboldt State University biology professor Dr. Joseph M. Szewczak has won a three-year, $673,000 federal grant to further development of his bat echo-location analysis system.

Of the total, $230,000 will go directly to HSU in salary and overhead expenses.

Szewczak and collaborators will develop a self-contained acoustic monitoring system that can continuously record high resolution bat vocalizations. The money comes from a Pentagon initiative named the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP). Szewczak will investigate ways to reduce the costs of monitoring threatened and endangered species on federal lands.

“I see this as a win-win situation, because this project can help reduce costs for federal agencies, but the technology that we are developing will also have broad application for addressing many ecological/species questions in new and more thorough ways,” Szewczak said. Amphibians, insects and birds might also be monitored.

In collaboration with other experts from New Zealand, Texas, and Arizona, Szewczak created a computing system to monitor the identifying vocal patterns of different species of bats. The new system will record bats in the field for weeks or months at a time, while filtering out all undesired signals. Then the recordings will be digitized on board and stored until they are retrieved.

With the help of Dr. Stuart Parsons from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, Szewczak is also developing an automated species identification software that will simulate decision-making capabilities of an expert human. The identification algorithms will be based on previously confirmed recordings of bat species.

Due to the many bat species that have not yet been recorded, Szewczak plans to do considerable field work across the United States to acquire the foundation data needed to generate the species identification algorithms.

The effort will require contributions from many people, a fair amount of equipment, and travel and support for field crews. That comes to a projected expenditure of more than $200,000 per year through 2008.

Szewczak has worked with bats since 1984, when he studied the physiology of torpor in the big brown bat for his Ph.D. thesis at Brown University. He teaches multiple bat-related courses at the University of California and San Francisco State University, as well as at HSU.

Originally trained as an engineer at Duke University, he has relied on his technical fluency to solve problems related to studying with bats, including the latest project.

Attention: editors/news directors: photos for this report can be downloaded at

For more information, contact Dr. Szewczak at or visit the SERDP web site at