Want to Reseed Devastated Tropical Forests? Send in the Bats

sleeping bat

Image courtesy of Lee Carson via flickr

Given the enormity of the problem -- millions of hectares of forest being converted for agricultural use every year -- the thought of using bats to spur reforestation efforts might seem a tad preposterous, if not downright silly. And yet, if a new study published online in Conservation Biology is to be believed, setting up artificial roosts in key areas to attract the prodigious seed spreaders could well do the trick -- while avoiding many of the problems commonly associated with more conventional strategies. The problem essentially boils down to one crucial factor: a lack of seeds. Once agricultural land becomes depleted and is subsequently abandoned, a wave of seed inputs is needed to help foster habitat regeneration. However, a lack of suitable roost sites and resources tends to keep most potential seed dispersers at bay. Attracting bats, which pollinate close to 1000 plant species and disperse their seeds widely via excretion, might then help accelerate the process -- if the right incentives are provided.

To test this hypothesis, a team of scientists led by the Leibniz Institute's Detlev Kelm built and installed 45 roosts in two Costa Rican habitats -- one in continuous forest and the other on recently abandoned agricultural land a few miles away. At the same time, they also set up traps to collect bat feces as a measure to quantify seed dispersal. Their findings indicate that 10 bat species quickly colonized the roosts, five of which occupied them permanently in both forested and agricultural habitats. As was expected, seed input around the roosts rose dramatically: The researchers calculated that 69 different seed types, mostly early-successional plant species, were transported to the deforested areas.

Ramping up early-vegetation succession is necessary for reforestation to occur as it attracts additional seed dispersers that help lay the groundworks for mid- to late-successional plants -- eventually returning the habitat to a climax, or stable end stage. Kelm and his colleagues believe this natural strategy could be widely applied to other degraded habitats.

Via ::ES&T;: Luring bats to jump-start tropical reforestation (news website)

See also: ::No Justice for India’s Forests, ::Pixel for Tree: a Million Dollar Homepage for Green DoGooders

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