Bats and Chocolate Production

By Merlin Tuttle
6/6/18

While conducting her Ph.D. thesis research, Bea Maas and her team (Maas et al. 2013) collected data that would surprise even her. When insect-eating bats and birds were excluded from cacao trees in Sulawesi, Indonesia, the crop yield fell by 31 percent. And when she compared losses due to night versus daytime exclusion, bats versus birds, she discovered that bats accounted for 22 percent of the prevented losses.

A control site in the same study (poles without netting).

To obtain such data, Bea selected 15 plantations where she enclosed 120 cacao trees in 60 exclosures (like huge, mesh cages) constructed of nylon mesh. There were four exclosure treatments per plantation, one daytime, one nighttime, one day and night, and one always left open as a control.

A bat/bird exclosure in Sarawak, Indonesia, built with bamboo poles and commercial nylon monofilament netting with a mesh size of 2 x 2 cm. These were opened and closed like curtains daily.

When closed, all bat and bird species were excluded, but arthropods were allowed entry, including large spiders, butterflies, and moths. The exclosures were opened and closed like curtains, daily at 5:30 am and at 6:30 pm for 15 continuous months. Using standardized systems, all arthropods were counted and digitally photographed daily and nightly, and cacao damage was documented every two weeks. More than 70,000 fruits were examined, including over 4,000 ripe, harvested fruits.

 

When Bea extrapolated the economic impact of bats saving growers an estimated 520 U.S. dollars per hectare across 1.5 to 1.6 million hectares of cacao, this value translated into savings of 780 to 832 million U.S. dollars annually! It is important to note that studied plantations were in or near natural vegetation. Without this biodiversity balance, such impressive savings likely would not have been possible.

 

She calculated the separate value of bats when quizzed about it after appearance of the original paper in Ecology Letters. Bats accounted for 22 percent, birds 9 percent, of savings (Maas et al. 2018, p 62). The economic extrapolations from these numbers are from her personal communication.

Intermediate roundleaf bats (Hipposideros larvatus) are exceptionally widespread, found in Sarawak and most of Southeast Asia. They roost in caves, rock crevices and buildings, and feed on a wide variety of insects, from moths and beetles to stink bugs and mosquitoes.
Trefoil Horseshoe Bats (Rhinolophus trifoliatus) range throughout most of Southeast Asia, living in understory forests. They roost alone in foliage, including beneath palm and rattan leaves. and hunt by listening and waiting for insects to fly by their feeding perches. Horseshoe bats feed on a wide variety of insects, especially moths, and were among the bats excluded in this study.
The Philippine horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus philippinensis) ranges from Australia through the Philippines and into Southeast Asia. It feeds both in dense vegetation and in open areas, often in rainforests. It is one of several horseshoe bat species likely to have been excluded.
Common Asian Ghost Bats (Megaderma spasma) are found throughout most of Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines. They form small groups, mostly consisting of a male and several females and their young, in caves, hollow trees, road culverts and buildings. Their large ears help detect prey sounds as they move through foliage. Prey consist mostly of large insects but also can include small vertebrates. This is one of many bat species most likely to have been excluded.

 

References

 

Maas, B. 2013. Bats and birds increase crop yield in tropical agroforestry landscapes. Ecology Letters 16:1480-1487.

Maas, B. and T. Tscharntke, A. Tjoa, S. Saleh, N. Edy, A. Anshary and M. Muhammad Basir. 2018. Effects of Ecosystem Services Provided by Birds and Bats in Smallholder Cacao Plantations of Central Sulawesi. Gottingen Univ. Press.

 

 

 

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Thanks to Mongabay for Balanced Nipah Reporting

By Merlin Tuttle
5/31/18

We greatly appreciate Mongabay for its handling of the Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala, India. Its story, “Nipah infection in Kerala: Don’t blame the bats alone; improve public health,” appeared on May 30, authored by Haritha John and Gopikrishna Warrier. Needless alarm was avoided by balanced reporting. As so often is the case, the rarest threats make the biggest news. Fortunately, in this instance, the news was accurate, so did not cause needless panic.

Fruit-eating bats appear to be the natural reservoir for this virus. However, Nipah is easily avoidable, as noted in the Mongabay article. Human infections originate from drinking unpasteurized palm juice or from contact with pigs who have eaten contaminated fruit.  The reported outbreak did kill 14 people, mostly from person-to-person transmission within a family and their immediate contacts. However, put in perspective, it was hardly grounds for the kind of panic too often created by needlessly scary speculation of potential pandemics killing millions. Thanks to level-headed health officials and media coverage, eradication of ecologically and economically essential bats was avoided.

 

A greater short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx) stealing a sip of sweet palm juice, often collected and consumed by people as a delicious drink. Humans who drink this juice only after pasteurization are safe from infection.

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Success in Panama!

During both weeks of our workshops, we encountered periodic rain showers, keeping the normally hot, dry-season temperatures far more comfortable than anticipated. The downside was that we had poor netting results on three nights during the second week. We shared the forest with some interesting characters, such as a black jaguar, which fortunately left us alone, though it likely observed our activities. This one was photographed on a trail camera near one of our netting sites.

 

We set up a triple-high mist net almost every night, both weeks.

Departing to net bats over the nearby river. Daniel Hargreaves is carrying the triple-high net rig in the red bag. His team of skilled instructors from the U.K., Steve and Fiona Parker and Daniel Whitby, were superb.

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More Bats from Cocobolo

During our two-week stay in Panama’s Cocobolo Nature Reserve, we recorded more than 600 bats of 53 species, more than half the total number known for the entire country. Additional species were netted nearly every night, including two on our final evening. Over our two-weeks of workshops, common vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) and greater fishing bats (Noctilio leporinus) were participant favorites, though an incredible variety of fruit-, nectar-, and insect-eating species were seen. The hardiest of our group members often worked till dawn, bringing in a steady stream of species for portrait photos, especially during the first week. By the second week much more time was devoted to training bats to come on call, especially to locations where Merlin could photograph natural behavior, such as catching katydids.

Merlin Tuttle training a hairy big-eared bat (Micronycteris hirsuta) to come on call to a leaf to catch katydids (its natural prey) in front of bright video lights needed for high speed video shooting.

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MTBC’s Bat Adventures continue: Panama – Week 2!

The new group arrived successfully and with bells on for Week 2.

We have three bats in training. Merlin trained a hairy big-eared bat (Micronycteris hirsuta) for photography. Within 15 minutes it was flying to his hand on call, rewarded with meal worms. Janell Cannon, the famous author of  Stella Luna, trained a white-throated round-eared bat (Lophostoma silvicolum) to eat from her hand. Her bat has a very calm temperament. Alexis and Amy trained a Niceforo’s big-eared bat (Trinycteris nicefori) for photography, a very sweet and eager gal.

Merlin guiding Janell in training the Lophostoma silvicolum in a small tent provided for this purpose.
Merlin guiding Janell’s bat training.
Merlin guiding Alexis in training a Trinycteris nicefori.

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Bats from Cocobolo

We’re just finishing up an incredible first week at Cocobolo and already caught 44 species of bats, everything from fishing bats to vampires, not to mention a wide variety of fruit, nectar, and insect eaters. Merlin added 10 additional species to his collection! Pygmy fruit-eating bats were found roosting in leaves they had cut to form “tents”.

Pygmy fruit-eating bat (Artibeus phaeotis)

Chestnut short-tailed bats were all around camp, feeding on piper fruit.

Chestnut short-tailed bat (Carollia castanea)

We caught more than 20 Common vampire bats. Frontier campesinos keep a few livestock not too far away, explaining the presence of so many vampires. Most of these seem to have lots of personality, enabling Merlin to get this cool photo. The trip participants had loads of fun shooting videos of the vampires running around on the ground on all fours.

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Hike to the Continental Divide and back!

MTBC’s Bat Adventures in Panama Week 1 group started out from our base camp for an energetic hike to the top of the mountain ridge. Some did it in 3.5 hours, some 6.5 hours, and everything in between. My GPS said I hiked 19,190 steps (about 10 miles!) and burned 2,701 calories. Some will go back at night to net for bats in this cloud forest where they hope to find different species than the ones found at the Cocobolo Nature Reserve banana plants, and along the lower river forest.

Merlin in the lead for our hike from camp straight up the vertical climb to the ridge top of the Continental Divide, about halfway between the Pacific and Caribbean.

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Off to a great start!

34 species, over a third of Panama’s 100+ bat species have been captured by our intrepid bat enthusiasts in just three nights!

Rebecca Edwards and Melissa Donnelly are raising the triple-high, while Fiona Parker looks on. This is a special rig to catch the freetail bats (high flyers) coming in to drink.

 

Fieldwork is teamwork! Melissa Donnelly and Daniel Hargreaves upright the triple-high net pole, while Fiona Parker and Baptiste Chadeyron open a mist net.

 

 

 

Processing team trio: Mary Smith weighs the bats, Karen Slote measures the bats’ forearm, and Mindy Vescovo enters all the data.

 

 

 

Melissa Donnelly has lots of experience catching bats and processing them. Here she trains Gretchen VanCleave, Maria Serrano, and Mindy Vescovo how to process the bats caught.

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MTBC’s Bat Adventures: Panama-Week 1

MTBC’s Panama Bat Workshop Week 1 Jonathan Duward, Fiona Parker, Steve Parker, Teresa Nichta, Daniel Hargreaves, Daniel Whitby, Mindy Vescovo, Rebecca Edwards, Michael Roy, Melissa Donnelly Maria Serrano, Karen Slote, Baptiste Chadeyron, and Mary Smith.

Merlin and Daniel Hargreaves, co-founder of Trinibats, have teamed up to co-lead two weeks of bat workshops at the Cocobolo Nature Reserve in Panama. The reserve is over 1,000 acres located about halfway between the Pacific and the Caribbean on the narrow Isthmus of Panama, about 35 miles wide.

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Updated Wind Energy Resources

Updated Wind Energy Resources

By Merlin Tuttle
4/3/17
Next to irrational fear, wind power production now poses the greatest threat to bats, especially in industrialized countries. The full impact of this exponentially growing industry remains largely unmeasured and unreported, but available evidence is alarming. Wind production companies, widely viewed as “green,” have not lived up to their reputation, and too many conservationists have remained silent for far too long. Bat researchers have worked diligently to help wind energy producers become truly green. However, only a small proportion of companies have implemented even the most cost-effective measures. 
As Merlin reports in his updated resource documents, it’s difficult to explain how we can know so much about cost-effective solutions, yet do so little. He suggests it’s time for cooperation among responsible energy producers and leading conservation organizations to simply rank companies on a true green scale and share these rankings with energy investment advisers, providing incentives for progress before it’s too late.
Read the updated resource pages here:
 

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