Could ‘pest control’ bats help to save rainforests?

Could 'pest control' bats help to save rainforests?
© iStock/CraigRJD

Bats are performing a pest control service in Madagascar, as researchers have found that six species of bat are preying on pests.

They study suggests that the ‘pest control’ bats could help to save rainforests, due to decreasing the pressure on farmers whose crops are destroyed by insects and reducing the need for deforestation.

Which species perform pest control?

Ricardo Rocha from the University of Cambridge’s Zoology department Conservation Science Group, said: “These winner species are providing a valuable free service to Madagascar as biological pest suppressors. We found that six species of bat are preying on rice pests such as the paddy swarming caterpillar and grass webworm.

How will it help to save rainforests?

Rocha continued: “The damage that these insects cause puts the island’s farmers under huge financial pressure and that encourages deforestation.”

Co-author James Kemp, from the University of Lisbon, added: “The effectiveness of bats as pest controllers has already been proven in the USA and Catalonia. But our study is the first to show this happening in Madagascar, where the stakes for both farmers and conservationists are very high.”

A bat reputation

“Bats have a bad reputation in Madagascar because they are seen as a nuisance when they roost in buildings,” Rocha said. “The problem is that while these bats are benefiting from farming, deforestation is also denying them places to roost. With the right help, we hope that farmers can promote this mutually beneficial relationship by installing bat houses.”

They are often associated with spreading disease. However, the research team found evidence that the Malagasy bat feeds not only on crop pests but also on mosquitos. Mosquitos are the vectors of malaria, Rift Valley fever virus and elephantiasis. Additionally, they were found to feed on as blackflies, which usually cause the spread of river blindness.

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