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Agave Restoration

Bats Need Agave
Copyright: Bill Hatcher

Native to the hot and arid regions of the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and South America, agaves spend their lives building up sugars for the moment when they send a massive flowering stalk up into the sky. This flowering stalk serves as an essential food source for hungry migrating bats, including the binationally endangered Mexican long-nosed bat and the lesser long-nosed bat. These bats will follow the agave bloom northward, where they will give birth to their young.

 

 

Restoring Wild Agave
agaveplanting
Image: Dan Taylor / Bat Conservation International

We’ve embarked on an ambitious initiative to plant agaves across the range of nectar-feeding bats from Central Mexico north to the Southwestern United States. We are working to bolster wild agave populations in key areas near nectar roosts and migratory pathways to help ensure the long-term success of both agave and bat populations. We will engage a broad range of partners, volunteers,students, and biologists in the planting and restoration efforts to ensure agaves are planted where the bats need them most. Across their range wild and cultivated agave are harvested and their habitats converted to other uses before they bloom – leaving bats hungry. Housing developments, illegal harvesting, roadways, and other impervious sources have replaced historical agave patches.

Funding for this project has been generously provided by the Bently Foundation, XTO Energy and our wonderful donors, like you. 


Our Partners

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Protect Mega-Populations

Millions of straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) emerge from their tree roosts
located in Kasanka National Park, Zambia.

The importance of bats to their ecosystems is difficult to overstate. This is particularly true where bat populations number in the many millions, as with Mexican free-tailed bats in the Texas Hill Country and straw-colored fruit bat colonies in Africa.

The ecosystem services provided by these mega-populations are profound and, if lost, would have serious consequences for agriculture, forestry, and ecosystem health.

Such populations also hold significant potential for educating the public.

Bat Conservation International will identify and protect mega-populations of bats wherever they are found, including areas containing a high percentage of the total population of individual bat species (major hibernacula, roosting colonies, migratory concentrations, etc.).

Bracken Cave (United States)

BCI owns and manages the property surrounding the largest bat colony in the world, Bracken Cave, located just north of San Antonio, Texas. With between ten and twenty million bats, this colony of Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis), along with numerous other large colonies located in central Texas provides area farms with insect pest control services valued at close to one million dollars each year. Learn more about Bracken Cave.

Congress Avenue Bridge (United States)

Also located in the Texas Hill Country, the well-known population of 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that lives seasonally under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin is currently well protected. However, this was not always the case. Soon after beginning habitation of the concrete expansion joints on the underside of the bridge in the early 1980s, it appeared the bats might be forcibly evicted.

Through no small effort, BCI’s founder, Dr. Merlin Tuttle, and others led an education and advocacy campaign that succeeded in allowing the bats to remain. Today, they are an important fixture in the city, and the tourism revenue estimated to be generated by visitors coming to watch the nightly bat emergence is in the millions of dollars annually. Learn more about the Congress Avenue Bridge bats.

Kasanka National Park (Zambia)

Straw-colored fruit bat in hand

Every year, the bats arrive during October and November to feed on figs and scatter their seeds, prompting reforestation and ecosystem renewal.

Then, just as suddenly as they arrived, the bats scatter to their other seasonal homes, which are thought to be largely in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. Surprisingly given the size of this mega-population, we still have much to learn about its ecology and conservation needs.

There is also a great need to educate local hunters and landowners about the value of protecting the Kasanka population. For these reasons, BCI partners with the Kasanka Trust to promote educational activities for local schoolchildren and to hire forest guards. Another recent conservation initiative for the bats of Kasanka is being led and funded by the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology, in which researchers have attached radio transmitters to some of the bats to track their nightly movements and discover their foraging habits.

Escaba Dam (Argentina)

Escaba Dam sign

Large populations of Mexican free-tailed bats are also known throughout Latin America.

The Escaba Dam in Argentina is thought to house South America’s largest bat population with just over 1 million individuals .

BCI and the Program for Bat Conservation in Argentina (PCMA) are partners in studying the ecosystem services of this colony and advocating for its permanent protection.






Monfort Bat Cave (Philippines)

In Asia, BCI has been a long-term partner in protecting the Monfort Bat Cave and its 1.8 million Geoffroy’s rousette fruit bats on the island of Samal in the Philippines. Despite the fact that bats enjoy wide-ranging legal protections in the Philippines, cave roosts are frequently disturbed or even destroyed by irresponsible use by humans.

Such is the case in the region surrounding Monfort Bat Cave, such that the majority of the region’s caves are empty of bats, meanwhile, the Monfort site is literally overflowing with bats. This shows the power of protecting vital roosting habitat, and it was this promise that led BCI to partner with landowner, Norma Monfort, when she appealed for our help in 2006.

Once on the verge of being seized by the government for agricultural development, today the cave is visited by thousands of eco-tourists annually and stands as a bright beacon for the importance and potential for bat conservation throughout Asia.




The Threats that Bats Face on a Global Scale

Bats, like so many other species, face wide-ranging threats around the world: foremost is habitat degradation and loss from a variety of human activities. Other threats include indiscriminant killing based on superstitions or fears of disease; uncontrolled hunting of bats for food and folk medicine; wind turbine-caused mortality; and improper mining of bat guano for fertilizer. Invasive non-native species also pose severe threats.

It is widely believed that as many as 25 of the 47 U.S. and Canadian bat species may be vulnerable to the introduced fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the cause of White-nose Syndrome. By some estimates, WNS has killed more than 6 million bats since 2006 in central and eastern North America.

Hibernating bats in other regions of the world also could be vulnerable. Bats living on islands, by virtue of their isolated evolution and limited geographic range, are particularly vulnerable to introduced species such as the Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis), Yellow Crazy Ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes) or the feral pigs (Sus scrofa) and goats (Capra hircus) that degrade forest habitats.

Without concerted global action, bat populations will continue to fall, driving many species to extinction. BCI is expanding its work around the world, through collaboration with a wide variety of partners, to detect and respond rapidly to critical, often broad-scale threats to bats.  Where necessary, we will invest in research to understand and develop new technologies or methodologies that alleviate serious threats to bats or substantially improve study or public appreciation of bats.

Africa

Africa is home to more than 21% of the world’s species of bats (269+ species). Learn more about BCI's collaborative work to address the most serious threats facing Africa’s bats.

Asia

Asia is home to more than 34% of the world’s species of bats (448+ species). Learn more about BCI's collaborative work to address the most serious threats facing Asia’s bats.

Europe

Europe is home to more than 3% of the world’s species of bats (42+ species).

Oceania

Oceania is home to more than 13% of the world’s species of bats (176+ species).Learn more about BCI's collaborative work to address the most serious threats facing Oceania’s bats.

Latin America

Latin America is home to more than 26% of the world’s species of bats (345+ species).Learn more about BCI's collaborative work to address the most serious threats facing Latin America’s bats.

USA-Canada

USA-Canada is home to more than 3% of the world’s species of bats (47 species). Learn more about BCI's collaborative work to address the most serious threats facing USA-Canada’s bats.

 

Preserve Bat Hot Spots

Bat Conservation International recognizes both the immense conservation value and the inherent vulnerability of areas where extraordinary numbers of distinct bat species are present.

These areas present great value and are deserving of conservation due to their uniqueness and their habitat’s ability to support vast numbers of species with differing ecological processes, along with the efficiency of being able to protect so many species in a single effort.

It is also important to avoid tragedies of the commons, by overlooking species or areas because of their apparent abundance. This is especially important in the case of bats because small areas of abundance, with high numbers of species or large populations can also be extremely vulnerable to catastrophic events or the emergence of new threats due to the compact, colonial-roosting nature of many species.

To preserve these vital “bat hot spots,” BCI will seek out opportunities to leverage its conservation impact by identifying and protecting landscapes of high ecological integrity with high bat species diversity.

Global bat species richness map

BCI's progress toward this initiative will depend heavily on availability of and access to existing data and the advancement of new technologies to locate bats and determine species identifications. Sixty million years of evolution have produced more than 1,300 bat species, and although approximate ranges are known for most species, exact roosting locations, migration and hibernation behaviors, and foraging patterns are not well understood, thus making it extremely challenging to document accurate species distributions.

Furthermore, as a gauge to the urgent need for additional bat research and conservation efforts, the IUCN lists 203 bat species as “data deficient,” meaning there is simply too little information known about these species to even label their conservation status, much less pinpoint their locations in relation to other species. Further, there are also at least another 150 bat species newly described and do not even have a species account on the IUCN Red List.



Launch a Global Bat Database

Prioritizing conservation action among 1300+ bat species requires the best possible scientific information. Unfortunately, there are many gaps in the current state of knowledge for many bat species and their habitats, which greatly constrains informed decision making.

Furthermore, the body of bat knowledge that does exist is all too often scattered across the globe, held in various individual and institutional databases, and in many cases, may still reside on the original paper datasheets or on the field laptops of the individuals that collected the data.

These and other challenges make it difficult and even impossible to access the critical data for comprehensive analyses to inform priority conservation programs and research projects. For this reason, Bat Conservation International and Washington DC-based NatureServe are partnering to establish a permanent global inventory for bats that will be accessible for all users via the Internet. Once launched, the Global Bat Conservation Data Center, will provide an invaluable resource to inform bat conservation at a global scale and by all stakeholders.

This long-term initiative will allow objective, science-based conservation and land-use decision making worldwide with bats in mind. We will work with individual researchers, museum collections, research institutions, scientific networks, and government agencies to link their disparate efforts and maximize the availability and value of their data collections by connecting them into the world’s only comprehensive database focused on advancing bat conservation.

The Global Bat Conservation Data Center, currently under development, is also meant to unite the world’s leading researchers and bat conservationists around common understandings of taxonomy, the status of populations and species, and the most urgent conservation needs. Our web-accessible data management system will expand access to and application of essential information about all bats around the world. Meanwhile, we will continue to collate information and catalyze new data collection on priorities and gaps.

Ultimately, the combined data will be used to create biodiversity indicators of bat population health for input into proposed biodiversity dashboards that assesses status and trends of biodiversity across broad landscapes as well as at local scales, effectively translating biodiversity data into relevant, accessible information for broad audiences and policymakers.

Bats represent greater than 20% of the world’s mammal diversity. Their economic and ecological importance, combined with serious population declines, justify the urgent need for comprehensive data to inform proactive conservation. Currently, 17.6% of the planet’s bat species are classified as Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List, meaning that the global scientific community lacks enough basic information to assess the health and status of more than 200 species of bats.

Wide knowledge gaps remain, and a wider chasm exists between the collection of this knowledge and its availability to the decision makers whose policies will help determine the fate of critical habitats and limited natural resources. Our initiative will establish an enduring framework to resolve this dangerous disconnect between the value of bats and regard for their management and conservation. Decisions for ecotourism operations, wind farm placement, choice of agricultural pesticides, the design of protected areas, and other issues should consider the impact on bats.

A global bat database will help overcome this as it unifies, digitizes, and improves the accuracy of large existing datasets while creating a methodological and technical infrastructure for globally consistent collection of new bat data and for implementation of urgent conservation actions.


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