Ecologists Josiah Maine and Justin Boyles of the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale reported on September 14th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that bats play a fundamental role in fighting crop pests, saving up to $1 billion a year in crop damages.
In their article, “Bats initiate vital interactions in corn”, Maine reports about his experiment that lasted from 2013 till 2014, where he tested how corn reacted to the absence of bats picking off pests. To do so, he built some “exclosures”, structures meant to keep bats outside and away from the corn. Each one of the exclosures measured more than 420 square meters and 7 meters high, and they were built using steel poles, cables and netting. In order to keep only the bats outside, and to let other creatures (like birds) in, the exclosures were removed daily so birds could forage normally. The nets were slid on the cables to one end just like a curtain, so Main could open the exclosures each day and close them each night. A moth whose larvae can cause billions of damages called the corn earworm was the main pest in his system. It doesn’t only feed on corn ears, but they can also cause an infection of the corn ear by fungi, which consequently can generate compounds that can be toxic and harmful to humans and livestock.
With his experiment, Maine found out that there were almost 60% more earworm larvae inside the exclosures than in the unprotected areas, and also more than 50% more corn kernel damage per ear in the corn. The fungal growth associated with pests was significantly higher, and the rate of toxins produced by it was strongly increased. His study wants to support the idea that bats provide valuable services to society, as they can be considered a natural solution to pests and a substitute for insecticides and chemicals. It also underlines the importance of maintaining a healthy and functioning ecosystem.
We hope this leads to an improved reputation for these wonderful animals.
Pic source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/theactionitems/8275324534/