Subterranean Work

Shawn Thomas and Nate Breece inspect a mine feature in southern Wyoming.
Photo: Katie Jepson / Bat Conservation International

Roughly half of all bat species in North America rely on subterranean habitat for some part of their life cycle. In caves, mines, basements and even abandoned sewers, bats find shelter from predators and the elements. Here, they can safely sleep, hibernate, mate, raise young and rest during long migrations.

Because the underground environment plays so central a role for so many kinds of bats, a better understanding of these hidden landscapes is crucial for creating and advancing successful conservation strategies.

Launched in 2008, BCI’s Subterranean Program works to increase the overall knowledge of underground environments and the bats that use them and to permanently protect them. The SubT team accomplishes this through a wide range of environmental assessments in caves, mines, and other subterranean structures.

These assessments include identifying suitable habitat, documenting evidence of use by bat species, and characterizing the overall underground environments where bats seek refuge.

Unfortunately, some of the same environments where bats flourish can be hazardous for humans, especially abandoned mines, and are often targeted for closure or destruction. The SubT team helps bridge the gap between preserving these vital habitats while also safeguarding the public from potential subterranean hazards.

The Team

The SubT team consists of a talented group of biologists that include Program Director Jason Corbett, Program Manager Shawn Thomas, Field Lead Nathan Breece, and numerous other part-time experts stationed around the country.

Shawn Thomas, Nate Breece, and Jason Corbett finish up an assessment outside of a
mine feature in southern Wyoming.
Photo: Katie Jepson / Bat Conservation International

Their passion for bats is matched by their penchant for exploring the unknown: rappelling underground, crawling though mine passages, and mapping uncharted cave corridors. All the while, the team is on the look out for evidence of bat activity, such as discarded insect parts on cave or mine floors, roost stains on the ceiling, and of course, the bats themselves.

With their unique blend of scientific expertise and specialized training in navigating the dangerous underground, the team ensures land managers are taking bats and their needs into account whenever potential habitat is targeted for closure. This takes a variety of forms: advising and facilitating on installation of bat gates, targeted bats and mines training, public education, research, and sharing of collected documentation and data.