Bats eat as many insects at night as birds do during the day, according to research published in the journal Science.
Using nets to control the presence of bats and birds at certain times of the day in the Panamanian rainforest, Margareta Kalka of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and colleagues found that bats have a significant impact on the number of insects in a given area. A second study, by Kimberly Williams-Guillén and colleagues at the University of Michigan, came to a similar conclusion using nets in a coffee plantation in Mexico.
A bat (Micronycteris microtis) consuming a katydid, Barro Colorado Island, Panama. [Photo by Christian Ziegler]
The results confirm that bats play a key ecological role in tropical forests and suggest that disappearance of insect-eating bats in agricultural landscapes could have negative effects on crop cultivation. Williams-Guillén and colleagues note that bat populations are declining worldwide.
Kalka and colleagues say that given their importance in controlling insects, bats should be seen as a form of natural pest control.
“Given their ecological importance, bats should be included in future conservation plans aimed at preserving the integrity of tropical forests and also considered in agricultural management strategies based on natural pest control,” they write.
M.B. Kalka et al (2008). “Bats Limit Arthropods and Herbivory in a Tropical Forest” and K. Williams-Guillen et al (2008) “Bats Limit Insects in a Neotropical Agroforestry System.” Science 4 April 2008.