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Bats: Ecologically Vital

Bats can be found on all continents except Antarctica. They fulfill three ecological roles that are highly beneficial to humans: pollinating food plants, dispersing seeds, and controlling insect populations.

More than 300 fruit plant species require bats for pollination, including bananas, guavas, and mangos. Without bats, there would also be no Tequila, as the Agave plant from which it’s derived depends on bats for pollination.

In addition to the pollination services they provide, bats play a critical role in the seeding of tropical forests, which rely upon fruit-eating animals for seed dispersal. When animals consume fruit, they protect seeds from fungal infection and consumption by seed eaters, and move them to areas where they can grow with less competition and therefore a greater likelihood of success.

Bats also help to eradicate many of the insects that cause problems for humans, such as disease-bearing mosquitos. Some bat species can consume as many as 1,000 mosquitos per hour (Tuttle, 2006).

Although bats play a key role in sustainability by replenishing our rainforests and pollinating many of our food plants, as well as reducing populations of harmful insects, they continue to suffer from human persecution. Because they have been linked to vampire legends, they instill superstitious dread in many people (vampire bats are actually just 3 inches long and weigh approximately one ounce – hardly the monsters of myth and legend).

Bats also get a bad rap due to overblown fears about rabies.  The reality is that between 1994 and 2009, just two people per year in the U.S. have died of rabies infections contracted from bats – the majority of rabies deaths worldwide are caused by rabid dogs (Bat Conservation International, 2011). In addition to deliberate killing by humans, bat populations have suffered due to habitat loss and exposure to pesticides and other toxic chemicals.

Many bat species are currently in danger of extinction. To learn more about bats and what you can do to help them, visit Bat Conservation International.

Sources:

Nilsson, G., Persecution of Bats Endangered Species Handbook, 2005.
Fleming, T.H., Fruit Bats: Prime Movers of Tropical Seeds Bats Magazine, 5(3), 1987.
Tuttle, M.D., Bat Conservation International, Bats, Artificial Roosts, and Mosquito Control, 24 July 2006.
US Forest Service, Bat Pollination 17 August 2011,
Bat Conservation International, Bats and Rabies 22 July 2011.

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