Nine of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots and approximately 30 percent of the world's bat species are found in Latin America and the Caribbean region. Bats are very important for ecological processes throughout the region and many species also directly benefit people.
Bats are the primary pollinators of an incredible diversity of flowing plants, including wild bananas, balsa wood and agaves. They also disperse seeds to help forest restoration throughout the tropics.
Bats are major predators of night-flying insect pests of agriculture crops and native vegetation and forests. In the Winter Garden of Texas, Mexican free-tailed bats eat so many moths of corn-earworms that they are estimated to save farmers three-quarters of a million dollars from reduced pesticide applications – this also reduces the infiltration of pesticides into our ground water.
Multiple the economic and ecological value of this single species of bat throughout its range, and add the value of over 340 other species of bats in Latin America and the Caribbean and you can begin to appreciate the enormous value of bats to ecological systems and our human economies.
Despite their great value, many bat populations have declined throughout much of Latin America and the Caribbean, where natural habitats are being destroyed at a very high rate. Major threats include deforestation, disturbance of major roosts in caves and mines, road building and fragmentation of habitat due to development, and the widespread persecution of bats from fear. Unfortunately, the threats to bats are even more complex than protecting a single roost for the bats when we consider that migratory species move seasonally over large distances and across international boundaries where they may not be equally protected – unfortunately critical roosting and foraging resources may be limited or lost along these little-known migratory corridors.
Thousands of beneficial bats have been destroyed in caves from the fear of vampire bats and rabies.