Let's Talk Bats

Let’s talk about bats. Not the release of “The Dark Knight,” but real bats, those furry flying mammals that crisscross our skies every night and save farmers billions in avoided crop damage and reduced pesticide costs.  Bats could be a crime-fighting poster child for ecosystem services. Like many creatures with the thankless job of supporting ecosystems and our quality of life, bats are threatened by habitat loss, energy development, vandalism, even hunting.

We must highlight their place in this conversation. One study concluded that Mexican free-tailed bats save farmers in south-central Texas up to $1.7 million a year. A recent paper in Science used the Texas study to extrapolate across the U.S. and estimated the annual economic benefit of bats is between $3.7 billion/year and $53 billion/year. A great start, but it’s taken an ecological crisis, White-nose Syndrome, to turn heads toward bats.

Agricultural communities, academics, and conservationists need to partner to quantify benefits provided by bats before populations are decimated and the services are lost. Tropical regions, home to almost a third of the world’s bats, are a wide-open frontier for quantifying bat services. Pesticides are expensive and creative solutions built around ecosystem services may help farmers protect their livelihoods.

How do we bring bats into this conversation on ecosystem services? If we can harness the superpowers of bats into the Ecosystems Services argument – maybe both humans and bats will have a brighter future.

Author bio: 
Mylea Bayless is Director of Conservation Programs for Bat Conservation International; a nonprofit based in Austin, TX whose mission is to conserve the world’s bats and their ecosystems to ensure a healthy planet (www.batcon.org).


Tim Gieseke

Mylea - Bats could be brought

Mylea - Bats could be brought into the conversation with agricultural producers if we discuss what actions are of value to the bats, economy, ecology and society.  First one needs to know what the bats are missing that prevents from thriving.  Agriculturists pride themselves on the ability to produce things - abundant grain from seed and the land - they know how to do that and what it is worth to the market and government.  If you put bat production into this same framework, then it provides them with the context of what needs to be done and perhaps a sense of the costs and some values.  To my knowledge, bats are great moth eaters and moth offspring cause $millions+ damage to the nearly ubiquitous corn crop (~$75B) and many others.  In my work, I could promote bat production if a landowner could use a Bat Index or metric to determine how their current management relates to potential management strategies.