Bats deserve a better reputation. They may be creepy or troublesome when they occupy our attics, but overall they’re more pesticide than pest. Not only do they suppress disease-carrying flies and mosquitoes, but they also devour insects that plague our food supply — and without the side effects of synthetic pesticides.
The flying mammals thus carry a lot of economic clout among some of the planet’s most important people: farmers. And now a new study is shedding more light on this bright side of bats, helping quantify their importance to global food production. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it suggests bats’ worldwide value to corn farmers alone is more than $1 billion per year.
To figure that out, biologists from Southern Illinois University (SIU) spent two years studying what happens when bats are only allowed to protect certain sections of a cornfield. They used custom-built netted structures, known as “exclosures,” to exclude bats from some plants while letting them hunt insects near others.
“The main pest in my system was the corn earworm, a moth whose larvae cause billions of dollars’ worth of damage to corn, cotton, tomatoes, and many other crops,” study author and SIU graduate student Josiah J. Maine says in a statement about the research. “The larvae feed on corn ears, causing direct damage to yield, but they also can introduce an avenue for infection of the corn ear by fungi, which produce compounds that are toxic to humans and livestock.” Read more.