Bats: farmers’ green pest control

Do you enjoy local veggies and fruits? You might want to thank your farmer but also bats. Yes, bats!

SCBats is studying bat contributions to the agricultural sector in BC

Bats are voracious insect eaters and each night they can consume their own body weight in insects. Because of this, bats can keep agricultural pests at bay while providing valuable ecosystem services for agriculture 1. For instance, bats help the cotton and corn farmlands in the US saving billions of dollars only in pesticide use 1,2.

Merlin Tuttle

In the Lower Fraser River Valley, insect pests are threats to important agricultural crops including those in fruit farms, vineyards, and vegetable farms. The good news is that the Valley is home to 10 bat species that feed exclusively on insects 3. Also, a large portion of pest insects has been identified in bat guano. This means that bats could provide an important ecosystem service by eating and depleting pest populations in the Lower Fraser River Valley.

Bats can also diminish the harmful impact that insects have on crops by just being present. Researchers have shown that female moths suppress reproduction after hearing bats feeding close by which prevents the production of the larval pest that causes earworm infestation in corn 4.

Despite these important benefits, bats have a negative reputation that’s largely undeserved. Many people associate bats with rabies, but the risk of transmission from bats is exceedingly low. Only about 6% of bats are infected with rabies (CDC). Also, there is no evidence of the transmission of rabies from bats to domestic animals or livestock. For instance, one of the biggest colonies of bats in the US, with approximately 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats, is a food source of many carnivores and to date, no outbreaks of rabies have been reported. The same holds true for one of the biggest maternity colonies in BC located at Deas Island Regional Park.

Understanding the benefits that bats provide to agriculture and promoting the conservation of bat ecosystem services is more urgent than ever. Today, bats face the threat of a deadly disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS). This disease is caused by a fungus and is obliterating bat populations across North America, with mortality rates of up to 100%. Researchers anticipate that southwestern BC will be affected soon. White-nose syndrome may lead bat decline and increase agricultural pests. In US, the loss of 6 million bats due to WNS has resulted in more than 1300 metric tons of insects escaping bat predation every year (USDA).

Bats and insect pest control in the Lower Fraser River Valley

Mimigu at English Wikipedia

Farmers and SCBats researchers are working together to understand bats’ role in pest control and develop strategies to minimize the impact of the catastrophic WNS disease in the Lower Fraser River Valley. With the support of the Investment Agriculture Foundation of British Columbia and farmers from the area, SCBats is exploring the pest control services bats are providing to farms in the Valley.

In summer 2017, the SCBat team conducted acoustic surveys in a number of farms to find the bat species feeding in the area. Using microphones and bat detectors, the SCBats team recorded bat ultrasounds which are being used for species identification.

The team also captured bats and collected guano. How? After capturing the bats, the team let the bats poop in a bag and took the samples to the lab. The guano collected will be used to extract DNA and identify the pest species bats are feeding from. Their results will help us understand how bats contribute to agriculture and provide valuable information that could potentially reduce pesticides used by supporting bats as natural pest control in farms.

Video of bat feeding

video from the BBC

1. Kunz, T. H., Braun de Torrez, E., Bauer, D., Lobova, T. & Fleming, T. H. Ecosystem services provided by bats. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1223, 1–38 (2011).
2. Beard, J. D. et al. Suicide and pesticide use among pesticide applicators and their spouses in the agricultural health study. Environ. Health Perspect. 119, 1610–1615 (2011).
3. Nagorsen, D. W., Brigham, R. M. & Museum, R. B. C. Bats of British Columbia. (UBC Press, 1993).
4. Maine, J. J. & Boyles, J. G. Bats initiate vital agroecological interactions in corn. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 112, 12438–12443 (2015).

Nature Conservancy Canada and SFI Partner to Protect Southern BC Bats

9 May 2011
The Nature Conservancy of Canada has received a Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) conservation grant to support protection of bat populations in southern British Columbia. The grant enables research to document the locations and health of bat habitat, which will in turn assist conservationists in taking greater measures to protect this sensitive species.

The project will receive a total of $50,000 through the SFI Conservation and Community Partnerships Grant Program over two years. In addition to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, partners include BC Bat, the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and SFI-certified International Forest Products Ltd.

“Bats are key indicators of ecosystem health, and we know bats and their habitat are on the decline in British Columbia,” said Tim Ennis, Director of Land Stewardship in British Columbia for the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “The Nature Conservancy of Canada is excited to participate in this important bat conservation project that aims to identify and protect bat habitat and keep it free from introduced disease.”

When bats are disturbed during hibernation they may abandon their sites, using important energy reserves they need to survive the winter. Human access to bat hibernation sites may also spread pathogens such as white nose syndrome, a fungus that is causing mass bat die-offs across North America.

“Because the SFI Standard includes specific conservation and research requirements, SFI program participants are always looking for new ways to conduct research to better promote biological diversity, protect wildlife habitat and manage special sites,” SFI President and CEO Kathy Abusow said. “This project uses a collaborative approach to achieve all of these objectives, and provide land managers with new ways to protect bat populations.”

Last year, SFI Inc. created the Conservation and Community Partnerships Grant program to build on the more than $1.2 billion SFI program participants have contributed since 1995 for research activities, including forestry research, science and technology. The Nature Conservancy of Canada project is the third SFI Conservation and Community Partnerships Grant awarded for 2011, and brings the total for all of the SFI grants awarded to-date to almost $1 million. Through the involvement of partners, these forestry research projects will leverage additional resources, achieving a total investment of more than $3 million.

The SFI 2010-2014 Standard is based on 14 core principles that promote sustainable forest management, including measures to protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk, and Forests with Exceptional Conservation Value, and encourages community involvement. The SFI program is the only forest certification standard in North America that requires participants to support and engage in research activities to improve forestry forest health, productivity and sustainable management of forest resources.

SFI Inc.

SFI Inc. is an independent non-profit charitable organization, and is solely responsible for maintaining, overseeing and improving the internationally recognized Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program. Across North America, more than 73 million hectares/180 million acres are certified to the SFI forest management standard, making it the largest single standard in the world. SFI chain-of-custody certification tells buyers the percentage of fibre from certified forests, certified sourcing and/or post-consumer recycled content. The SFI program’s unique fibre sourcing requirements promote responsible forest management on all suppliers’ lands. SFI Inc. is governed by a three-chamber board of directors representing environmental, social and economic sectors equally.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is Canada’s leading land conservation organization, working to protect valuable natural areas and the plants and animals they sustain. Since 1962, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and its partners have helped to protect more than 800,000 hectares/2 million acres coast to coast. Through strong partnerships, the Nature Conservancy of Canada works to safeguard natural areas so that our children and grandchildren will have the chance to enjoy them.