Investigating bat activity in various agricultural landscapes to develop organic insect pest management
In 2016, The Rodale Institute was awarded a NESARE grant to investigate bat activity in various agricultural landscapes to develop organic insect pest management. Bats are a widely underestimated biological tool for insect pest management and farmers are not sure how many bats they have or how to enhance their activity. We worked with two farmer partners to assess bat populations and activity on their farms. To do this we used acoustic monitoring equipment to detect bat echolocation calls and quantify their activity by those calls. We also installed different designs of bat houses at the study sites to see which design and site would be more successful at attracting bats. Our goal is to use these to identify tools to enhance bat activities for Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
This past spring a total of 9 bat houses, of 3 different varieties, were installed at Rodale Institute and a farmer partner’s farm. These bat houses were monitored throughout the summer for occupancy. At this time, no bats occupied the houses but that is to be expected and therefore monitoring will continue into year two.
This past spring and summer bat activity was monitored using acoustic monitoring equipment recording echolocation calls to quantify bat activity by bat passes. The monitoring was done at various locations and a variety of agricultural systems. These locations included grain crops, orchards, and vegetables. We made comparisons of these commodities at sites that were organic and sites that were conventional. We also looked at natural landscape features on farms, like grain crops and orchards with tree lines and without tree lines, vegetable fields with insectary strips, farm ponds, and riparian areas. This part of the project is complete. Bat calls have been analyzed and we are preparing charts and running statistics now.
Direct comparisons were 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, or cultivated grain or vegetable fields).
Timeline Milestones from original proposal with updates in parenthesis
March- May 2016
-Purchased monitoring equipment and upload software (completed).
-Met with farmer partners, evaluate farms, and make final site selections (completed).
-Prepared plan for transect locations and distances (completed).
-Finalized protocol (completed)
-Install bat houses (a total of 9 houses were installed).
May- August 2016
–Analyze monitoring and acoustic data monthly
(Completed. However, May was very rainy so most of the monitoring was in June, July, and August without breaks to fit the four rounds in. However, to gather more data we did an extra round of acoustic monitoring than proposed. Initial driving transects provided little data so after the first round, monitoring just consisted of passive monitoring not active monitoring).
–Monitored for roosts and bat box occupancy monthly
–Identify bat species in any maternity roosts discovered on site and count populations at emergence at dusk
(Completed, no roosts in bat houses but we did find 3 roosts near the areas we were monitoring).
–Presented our project at our annual field day in July
(Completed, the attendance for the day was 182 people. In addition to field day we incorporated this project into a small portion of our farmer training program in August. This was done a year earlier than expected due to interest. We also did a press release at the beginning of the project and that brought in a lot of media attention and attention from farmers and research institutes looking to collaborate on similar work)
September 2016- April 2017
-Evaluate data, work on technical and non-technical publications, and create fact sheets
(To be completed)
-Plan workshops for farmers and curriculum for Rodale Institute’s farmer training program.
(To be completed)
-Attend a regional farmer conference to share this work (To be done).
(In addition to dissemination goals in the proposal, Albright interns presented this work at the annual North American Bat Symposium in Texas in October and Kate Harms presented this work with the Annual Northeast IPM online conference November 9th. This work also appeared in Organic Life Magazine, Reading Eagle Newspaper, and Morning Call Newspaper. And the work has been presented to a High School Environmental club, 35 attendees, and a local Community Night, 40 attendees)
May-August 2017 (To be done)
-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 – October 2017 (To be done)
-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.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Through all the press this project has received it has opened doors to other agricultural research institute’s and farmers looking to collaborate. An awardee of a Graduate student grant for Southern SARE is modeling her project after this one so we can compare data between different regions and crops. We also are working with a research farm in upstate New York who is beginning to monitor bat activity in agricultural fields and were able to submit a proposal together to expand this work. I have spoken to multiple farmers by phone, who have reached out to us after hearing about the work. The call to discuss bat roosts they have and inquire about bat houses. Overall I would say this project is broadening its scope by reaching a general audience just from the unexpected press we have received. This interest has also been extremely positive and favorable to the work.