Do Bats Have a Purpose in the Environment?
These nocturnal creatures may creep us out, but they are more benign than their reputations make them out to be. In fact, they play a major role in our global ecosystem in numerous ways.
What Role Do Bats Play in Insect Reduction?
Bats play a crucial role in helping to control night-flying insects, and countless agricultural pests. Some bats eat more than seventy percent of their body weight each night. Pregnant females of some species can eat up to a hundred percent of their body weight. A single bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes per hour!
This can help reduce disease and eliminate the need for harmful pesticides and insecticides. For example, a favorite staple of the Mexican free-tailed bat’s diet is the corn earworm moth. This pest causes worldwide crop damage, estimating over a billion dollars in damages per year. These bats help save cotton farmers in south-central Texas. These bats have saved farmers nearly $750,000 per year.
Bats can help reduce crop damage and pesticide use, helping to protect the environment as a whole.
What Other Ways Do Bats Benefit the Environment?
The common misconception among many people is that bats only eat insects or drink blood. However, many bats also drink nectar, and in doing so they help pollinate plants. There are an estimated 450 commercial plants that are pollinated by bats including:
Nectar-feeding bats are crucial pollinators since most plants can’t produce seeds and fruit without pollination. This involves moving pollen grains from the stamen, or the male part of the flower, to the female part, also known as the pistil. Bats pick up a dusting of pollen and move it along to other flowers and plants as they feed.
Scientists even believe that some species of plants have evolved specifically to attract bats. The ability of bats to fly great distances allows plants that are typically located in low volume or far-away habitats to be pollinated.
Products Dependent on Bats
Some of the products we consume are derived from plants that can only be pollinated by bats. Some of these products include:
- wild bananas
Other plants that are pollinated by bats are used for cultural, economic, and even medicinal purposes. Bats pollinate timber and oils, along with fruits, fiber, and other products that are shipped around the world. Without bats, our economy would take a massive hit.
Even bat droppings, known as guano, are important. Guano is a major natural resource and is mined as a highly fertile source of nutrients. Landowners and local communities benefit greatly from bats as they use their dropping as fertilizer on farms to help grow vital crops.
Bats are often considered a keystone species essential to tropical and desert ecosystems. These vulnerable ecosystems could collapse if not for the bat’s remarkable ability to disperse seed and to perform crucial pollinating activities. Many tropical ecosystems rely on bat pollinators in order to regenerate themselves.
Pollinating and insect-eating bats are crucial to an ecosystem’s survival and are saviors of the environment.
Many bat-dispersed seeds are also from hardy pioneer plants, meaning they can be among the first to grow in the hot, dry conditions of clearings. These plants are able to thrive where other plants would flounder.
Seeds dropped by bats can account for up to ninety-five percent of first new growth, providing new perches for birds and primates who can add additional seeds to the mix.
Without bats, our world would certainly be a different, much less ecologically diverse place. With over 1,300 species of bats around the world, these creatures play an important ecological role that is vital to the health of humans as well as to the rest of the natural ecosystem.
Bats also help to regenerate clear-cut forests. Birds won’t cross large, open spaces where flying predators can attack. So, they drop seeds beneath their perches. Fruit bats, on the other hand, forage at night and cover large distances when they do so.
They can drop seeds wherever they like as they aren’t afraid to cross clearings. These bats also defecate in flight, helping to scatter way more seeds than birds would across cleared areas.
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