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Bat Conservation International photos
All bat photos by Bat Conservation International

BAT CONSERVATION AND THE FOREST SERVICE

Bats are vital to the health of ecosystems and human economies world wide.

As primary predators of night-flying insects, bats consume enormous quantities of agricultural pests and reduce the need for chemical pesticides. Some bats are critical pollinators and seed dispersers for plants, many with great economic value such as the durian in Asia, or the agave (source of tequila), closer to home in North America.

Bats are threatened worldwide, and their colonies and habitats are destroyed – both intentionally and inadvertently – because of myths, misinformation and lack of scientific knowledge and understanding.


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Why are Bats Important? [Source: Bat Conservation International slide show]
Our planet contains an amazing diversity of plants, approximately a quarter of a million species. They provide essential food and shelter, without which we and most other animals would quickly die. In turn, many plants cannot survive without animals to pollinate their flowers and disperse their seeds. Each plant has its own unique needs, some relying on many kinds of animals, others on just a few or even one. Butterflies, bees, bats and birds each pollinate plants that others cannot. From deserts to rain forests, flowering plants have developed a wide range of colors, shapes, sizes and forms, all designed to guarantee that a particular pollinator spreads pollen from plant to plant, ensuring the production of new seeds.

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This Mexican long-tongued bat (Choeronycteris mexicana) has just returned to its roost after drinking nectar from agave flowers in the Chihuahuan Desert . Pollen stuck to its face has been carried from flower to flower, and what remains will be eaten as a rich source of protein. Bats with very long noses and tongues use these special adaptations to more efficiently obtain nectar. They, and the plants that rely them, live throughout the world's tropical and subtropical areas, sometimes so well adapted to each other that neither can survive alone.

This endangered lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae) is pollinating a saguaro cactus flower in the Sonoran Desert . In American deserts, bats are the most efficient pollinators for dozens of species of agave plants, as well as for many giant cacti including saguaro, organ pipe and cardon. These 10- 50-foot-tall (3-15 m) plants provide essential food and shelter for countless other plants and animals, but in turn, rely heavily on bats for pollination and seed dispersal. The saguaro lives the farthest north where pollinators are less predictable and thus keeps its flowers open both night and day, relying on birds and bees in addition to bats.

Spectacled flying foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus) are important pollinators of black bean trees, one of Australia 's most important timber resources. More than 140 species of plants in the Old World tropics rely on flying foxes for pollination and these yield over 300 products of economic value including drinks, dyes, fibers, animal fodder, food, fresh fruit, fuel wood, medicines, ornamental plants, tannins, timber and other wood products. Yet, the bats that pollinate these valuable plants are often intensely persecuted by people who are ignorant of their many values.


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Why is the Forest Service Involved in Bat Conservation?
Forest Service International Programs works with migratory birds, butterflies and including bats. Our interest is in assisting in research, conservation management and capacity building to maintain healthy ecosystems here at home and outside the US. Investing in international conservation protects our investments here at home, reduces the risk of increasing endangered species, builds scientific knowledge and creates a cadre of trained scientists and managers to bring about positive conservation action.


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Scholarship Program Promotes Bat Conservation Research

Bat in International Forestry Scholarship Brochures:

In 2005, the Forest Service International Programs and Bat Conservation International established a partnership to provide scholarships for applied conservation research conducted in developing countries. In 2007 94 applications were received, and 25 will be funded. These awards typically are matched from other conservation organizations, government agencies and private foundations.

Currently eleven student research projects funded by the two organizations are underway in nine geographic regions. Progress is being made in understanding bat habitat associations, diet and foraging behavior, beneficial predatory impacts of bats and the effects for forest fragmentation. The research includes a wide range of habitat types including rainforest, agricultural and urban landscapes.

Example of Current Bat Research

  • Sandra Peters from the University of Western Ontario is studying bat roosting patterns and community structure in primary forest corridors, secondary forests and Eucalyptus plantation forests in northeastern Amazonia, Brazil. To date, she has captured 956 bats representing 40 species, 25 genera and 4 families. She has defined ten study sites and will continue collecting data through 2007.
  • Margareta Kalka from the University of Ulm is quantifying the impact of insectivorous bats on insect herbivory (the consumption of plants) in a natural setting, working in the tropical lowland rainforest of Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Preliminary data analysis suggests that bat predation on insects significantly reduced damage of plants due to insects. Additionally, her results suggest that bird contribution to herbivory reduction is only 30% that of bats. These are preliminary results. Ms. Kalka’s work in the field is continuing. She is expanding her research to include cacao agroforests in the Bocas del Toro Province in Northwestern Panama.


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Other Joint Activities:
Forest Service International Programs and Bat Conservation International are currently exploring FS participation in workshop training sessions hosted by BCI in Arizona and Pennsylvania and developing preliminary ideas for a workshop in the managed forests of the southeastern United States.


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Relevant Links:

To learn more about Bat Conservation International, please go to: www.batcon.org

Other bat and/or pollinator oriented web sites include: www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/index.shtml


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