Investigating bat activity in various agricultural landscapes to develop organic insect pest management

Project Overview

ONE16-260
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,938.00
Projected End Date: 04/15/2018
Grant Recipient: Rodale Institute
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Kate Harms
Rodale Institute

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn, rye, soybeans, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: apples, melons, peaches, pears, plums, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, wildlife
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships

    Proposal abstract:

    Agriculture and wildlife have never been mutually exclusive but rather can support the vitality of each other when managed properly. Management strategies employed by farmers over large parcels of land impact both on- and off-farm ecosystems and wildlife. Regenerative organic agriculture uses natural, biological processes, such as predator-prey relationships, biological nutrient cycling, and crop diversity, to reduce weed and insect pests while saving labor, money, and natural resources. Understanding how to put these processes into practice to maximize efficiencies and their positive outcomes requires documented success, tools, and outreach. The Rodale Institute has over 60 years of success in conducting high quality research studies to develop methods and tools to aid farmers in biologically managing pests while maintaining or enhancing yields and food quality and providing education using multiple venues including field days, tours, workshops, articles, fact sheets, social media, and peer-reviewed publications. Bats are a widely underestimated biological tool for insect pest management, but farmers are not sure how many bats they have or how to enhance their activity. The objective of this study is to assess bat populations and activities using acoustic monitoring equipment at sites under a variety of land uses and to identify tools to enhance bat activities for Integrated Pest Management (IPM). A better understanding of land use and bat presence can help farmers attract bats and use their abilities for pest management, freeing up time and money, increasing their product value, and reducing pollutants in the environment while supporting ecosystem services.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project proposes to investigate HOW bat populations and activities differ across landscapes and land uses.  A better understanding of the relationships between land use and bat presence can help farmers attract bats and use their abilities for pest management freeing up time and money and reducing commodity losses and pollutants while supporting our native ecosystems. This research will provide crucial data as to WHAT our current bat populations in the region are. We hope to show WHERE bats forage more heavily and HOW to modify those areas to incorporate best practices. In addition, we will look at HOW artificial roosts can attract and increase bat populations on farms. Understanding the occupancy rates of different types of artificial roosts like bat boxes can provide a tool to support bat populations and attract them onto a farm.  The goal is to take existing studies and combine them with measurements from this project to create educational models, tools, and many outreach opportunities that will aid farmers in reducing pesticide use and increase bat populations in our region for us all to benefit from. 

    Methods

    Using acoustic monitoring equipment, we will collect data on bat activity and species diversity and compare these relative to landscape and land use. Finally, we will look at whether bats are just passing by in flight or foraging to determine whether they are using the specific landscapes for traveling or foraging. To do this, we will run transect lines of equal distances along or through the different areas. We will use periodic monitoring and stationary acoustic monitoring equipment at sites as well. The readings on the equipment will provide data on population and species throughout different sites. The data collected can give us a clearer picture of the population dynamics in the region and by landscape and land use. This is all done by collecting acoustic data of bat echolocation calls and using software to analyze it.  Dr. Karen Campbell in the biology department of Albright College will be assisting with the analysis along with an Albright biology intern.  Dr. Campbell has years of experience using acoustic monitoring equipment and analyzing its data. 

    Direct comparisons will be made between conventionally and organically managed systems at Rodale Institute and collaborating farms under similar landscape or land use (e.g. forested riparian buffers, orchards, cultivated grain, or vegetable fields). The sites will be monitored twice on consecutive days monthly for 4 months with alternating start times. For example, day one will monitor site one first then move on to site two, while day two will do site two first then site one. This will allow us to evaluate bats under similar weather conditions and time frames. All monitoring activity will occur on nights with suitable weather for bat activity (i.e. no heavy winds or rain), and the nights that we will be comparing sites need to be consecutive meaning weather needs to be clear enough for two days in a row. Depending on the use of insecticides at these sites, this could affect the presence of insects for bat foraging. For example, although orchards are vertical structures that can attract bats, they are shorter and heavily managed often with pesticides.

    Landscapes or land uses selected:

    1. Grain fields with and without tree lines
    2. Vegetable production fields with and without insectary strips
    3. Riparian areas with and without buffers
    4. Orchards with and without a tree line

    Areas lacking proper vertical structures for bat roosting will have bat boxes added in the first spring of the project and monitored into the second year. Two bat boxes per site will be installed – a two and a three chamber box. A set of bat boxes will also be installed in areas that would be favorable for bat activity to determine how bat box type impacts occupancy rates and species.  Favorable areas will also have a new 7 chamber bat box installed to monitor that size as well. These occupancy rates can help determine tools for increasing habitat. 

    Timeline of project

    March- May 2016

    -Purchase monitoring equipment and upload software.

    -Meet with farmer partners, evaluate farms, and make final site selections.

    -Prepare plan for transect locations and distances.

    -Finalize protocol

    -Install bat houses.

    May- August 2016

    -Analyze monitoring and acoustic data monthly.

    -Monitor for roosts and bat box occupancy monthly.

    -Identify bat species in any maternity roosts discovered on site and count populations at emergence (dusk).

    -Present our project at our annual field day.

    September 2016- April 2017

    -Evaluate data, work on technical and non-technical publications, and create fact sheets

    -Plan workshops for farmers and curriculum for Rodale Institute’s farmer training program.

    -Attend a regional farmer conference to share this work.

    May-August 2017

    -Host farmer workshops and add as a component to farmer training programs.

    -Monitor bat boxes for occupancy

    -Present our results at our annual field day.

    August – April 2018

    -Create fact sheets and publish final information on bat box occupancy.

    -Disseminate information to technical and non-technical audiences through Rodale Institute’s website and social media networks.

    Outreach events

    Rodale Institute will host at least one onsite, evening program for farmers on our findings of bat benefits and habitats, concluding with a live presentation of acoustic monitoring where a screen will display the live bat calls. This is an excellent method to show the presence of an elusive animal bringing awareness and encouraging conservation practices.  Outreach publications, such as web articles and fact sheets, will discuss how to attract bats and use bat boxes for increasing bat populations on site as an IPM plan. These will educate farmers and other land managers on which bat boxes to use and how to install and maintain them for maximum benefits.  We will also connect farmers to state and federal agencies and conservation groups that can help them acquire free bat boxes.

    Information will be disseminated through print and web outreach materials presented at field days, seasonal events, custom tours, self-guided tours, webinars, on-site workshops, and part of the curriculum in our farmer training programs, such as our Delaware Valley University Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program for veterans and others wishing to begin careers in organic farming. Our educational programs are designed to meet the needs of the target audience – farmers; state and federal agency personnel; elementary school, high school, extension, or university educators; and students at all levels. Information is disseminated via discussion, printed informational fact sheets, bulletins, and other publications, on-site demonstrations and hands-on activities, static displays, PowerPoint presentations, videos, and via the Rodale Institute’s farmer website, www.rodaleinstitute.org. Rodale Institute’s on-farm workshops and field days drew over 1,000 attendees in calendar year 2014. Our website receives an average of 40,000 visitors and more than 80,000 page views per month. The e-newsletter has more than 21,000 subscribers in total – many who have self-identified as farmers, agricultural professionals, educators, or students. 

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.