Former BCI Student Scholar uses applied science to study how bats help farmers.
By Kristen Pope
Bats near Jalisco, Mexico help farmers boost their income by 40%, according to a study by former Bat Conservation International Student Scholar Dr. Veronica Zamora-Gutierrez and colleagues. Dr. Zamora-Gutierrez is a researcher for CONACYT-CIIDIR Durango IPN in Durango, Mexico, and she focuses on using applied science to solve conservation problems.
Her study examined pitaya, which is an important fruit crop that grows on columnar cacti (Stenocereus queretaroensis). Dr. Zamora-Gutierrez and her colleagues discovered bats’ pollination work is worth $2,500 USD per hectare.
How do bats provide so much value to farmers? Their pollination helps produce more, larger and sweeter fruits. Without the hard work of bats like Leptonycteris yerbabuenae—one of the primary nectarivorous pollinators for pitaya—crop yields decreased by 35%. By excluding bats from the fruit, they learned that without bats, fruit was 46% lighter and 13% less sweet, meaning it would be less valuable at the market.
Another study in the pitaya agroecosystem, examined the use of carbamate pesticide and inorganic fertilizers, which are toxic for most animals and humans. They found these agrochemicals did not increase fruit yield or improve sweetness, nor did they deter bats from visiting. Bats that pollinated these crops were exposed to fruit and nectar that “contained pesticide concentrations above those permitted by international agencies like the European Commission,” according to the study.
Dr. Zamora-Gutierrez is working with farmers to encourage them to use natural pesticides and fertilizers which are safer for bats, and they’ve been very receptive.
“We’re having a really good response,” she says. “We’ve been working with pitaya farmers for over six years and they already recognize bats as the main pollinator of pitaya, which is a huge success. Now we’re trying to help them make a change with pesticides. I’m very proud of this.”
Additionally, Dr. Zamora-Gutierrez was one of the key researchers on the Sonozotz project, which was a huge endeavor to catalog the echolocation calls of Mexican bats. The project cataloged calls from 69 different species of bats–around half the total species known to live in Mexico. Data from 109 sites throughout the country were assembled, including 1,664 bat calls and 1,960 echolocation sequences. This valuable database will help researchers identify bats using acoustic technology.
Working on projects that can help solve problems, from identifying bat species by their calls to helping farmers learn how and why to protect bats, is important to Dr. Zamora-Gutierrez.
“Applied science helps us make management decisions and informs public policies to make conservation happen,” she says.