Economic Impacts of Bats in Dakota Agroecosystems: Do Insect-Eating Bats Reduce Pesticide Needs and Contribute to Plant Pollination?
Insectivorous bats play a key role in regulating insect communities. Yet, severe population declines in North American bat populations, due to a fungus that causes White-Nose Syndrome, may impact the ecological and economic roles bats play in natural and agroecosystems. This project aims to quantify the dietary composition of bats in North and South Dakota. Specifically, by 1) evaluating predation upon common crop pests, 2) assessing bats’ economic value as natural agents of pest removal in agroecosystems, and 3) examine if bats indirectly contribute to pollination. The Dakotas are considered agricultural states, with a combined total of 40.4 million acres harvested during the 2017 USDA Census, making research related to Dakota bat impacts essential. To achieve project goals, a morphometric microscope and DNA-based analysis of previously collected fecal samples will be completed. This involves PCR amplification of prey DNA followed by molecular cloning to enable gene sequencing.1 Such DNA-based techniques can detect prey items that are not visible under a microscope and identify prey species to a much finer taxonomic level.1 Similar methods will be used to detect pollen, which may have been on prey items consumed by bats, to address contributions to pollination. Findings could potentially assist farmers with decisions about timing and intensity of pesticide applications. If there is evidence for indirect pollination, this information would not only apply to agroecosystems, but all ecosystem types found across the Dakotas. Overall, this study will significantly contribute to understanding the ecological services bats provide, especially in environments dominated by agriculture. Furthermore, understanding population level differences in dietary needs can provide managers with critical information, allowing them to key in on the protection of resources that are important to local bat populations. Outreach emphasis will be placed on educating farmers and exposing primary and secondary school children to current bat research. Explaining bats roles within agroecosystems will promote interest in the conservation of bat species and their habitats. Recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attitudes towards bats have been at an all-time low. Educating the public about the positive services bats provide could lead to a shift from the current negative conceptions.
- Hope, P.R., et al. (2014). Frontiers in Zoo., 11(1), 39
Project objectives from proposal:
The audience we are attempting to reach is the general public, with emphasis placed on educating primary and secondary school children and those working in the agricultural industry. Exposing primary and secondary school children to current bat research will promote interest in the conservation of bat species and their habitats. Since approximately 47% of Dakota land is used for agricultural purposes1, educating farmers about the ecological and economic impacts of bats is essential. Recently, attitudes towards bats have been at an all-time low due to SARS-CoV-2 and resulting COVID-19 pandemic, likely originating from a horseshoe bat.2 A recent ABC news article discusses multiple incidents involving humans shooting bats due to the public’s fear of viral disease spread and misconception that all bats carry viral diseases.3 Educating the general public with facts about the positive services bats provide could lead to a shift from the current negative conceptions. Economically, findings would be relevant to farmers deciding when and at what intensity to apply pesticides. Previous studies have shown bats remain economically impactful even when pesticides and genetically modified crops are used.4 Furthermore, findings could lead to identification of ideal spray intervals, preventing the overuse of chemical pesticides, and curb insect resistance.4 If findings suggest indirect pollination, results could be important not only within agroecosystems, but all Dakota ecosystem types.
- Census of Ag. (2017). USDA, 1, 1-711
- Andersen, K., et al. (2020). Nat. Med., 89, 44–48
- Tuffield, R., et al. (2020). ABC News.
- Federico, P., et al. (2008). Ecol. Appl., 18(4), 826-837