The furry mammals help maintain a balanced ecosystem
Although bats are not known as one of nature’s most beloved or loveable creatures, these winged mammals offer a number of benefits for the ecosystem they inhabit.
Educating the public on those benefits is Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) agent Dustin Thames, who will speak about all things bats at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the C.D. Stamps Community Center.
“Bats really go unseen for the most part, unless they are causing problems,” Thames said.
“But they are helpful in many ways. They are out there eating beetles and moths, which are big forests pests. Those types of bugs can cause real problems and bats really keep those bugs in check. Bats are doing the ecosystem a service.”
Thames, a 2005 graduate from Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, said his love of bats came after taking a position with the wildlife agency.
“After college, I was hired on with TWRA as a fisheries technician in 2007,” he said. “I was promoted up to what is called a wildlife diversity surveying manager. When I got into that job, my interest was really in reptiles and amphibians. I got the opportunity to start studying bats and the more I learned, the more consuming it became. I’m currently pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where I’m focusing on the tri-colored bat for my thesis research at UT. It’s just a passion that I’ve develop.”
For his presentation at the center, Thames will discuss a number of topics, including commonly believed myths about bats, benefits of bats and how the community can get involved.
“I will also be discussing different species of bats here in Tennessee,” he said. “There are 16 in the Volunteer State, with four of those on the endangered species list. Threats to bats such as white-nose syndrome was discovered in 2009 in Tennessee. Right now it’s important for people to know about the benefits of bats and to be aware of diseases such as white-nose syndrome. When people are empowered with knowledge, especially about bats, it allows them to become involved and to care.”
Tennessee Bat Working Group
Thames is also a member of the Tennessee Bat Working Group (TNBWG).
Formed in 2004, the group works to coordinate the conservation of bat species in Tennessee.
The goal of the TNBWG is to conserve bats and their habitats in the Southeastern United States through collaborative research, education and management, with a focus on bat research, conservation, education, and management within the state of Tennessee.
“It’s a great group that does a lot for bat conservation,” Thames said.
For individuals interested in learning more about the organization and bat conservation, the group will holding its annual meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16 in Sewanee at the Sewanee Inn, located at 1235 University Ave. The public is invited to attend.
“It’s a great way for the public to learn more about the benefits of bats and how they help,” he said.
For more on TNBWG, visit online at www.tnbwg.org.
Benefits of Bats
According to the National Park Service, bats bring many benefits to their ecosystems. More than 50 unique species of bats live in national parks, and different species provide different benefits. Some pollinate plants, others eat insects, many serve as prey to other animals, and they all inspire scientific discoveries.
Supporting cave communities
Caves are complex and unique ecosystems that provide homes for a diversity of creatures from insects to amphibians and fish, as well as mammals like wood rats and bats. Many of these creatures can only survive within the cave, and they rely on nutrients carried into the cave by water or other animals. Bats benefit caves by providing important nutrients in their guano (fertilizer) that support the growth of communities of cave organisms.
Bats that eat insects are called “insectivorous.” They feast on insects each night, adding up to more than $3.7 billion worth of pest control each year in the U.S., according to the park service. When bats are around to eat insects, there are fewer insect pests causing damage to crops, and farmers don’t have to invest as much in pesticides.
Several species of bats in tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas eat nectar. Many types of plants in these regions rely on bats for pollination and seed dispersal, such as the blue agave. In some Southwestern parks, long-nose and long-tongue bats are perfectly adapted to pollinate these plants, and they provide extensive value to the agricultural industry.
Fruit-eating bats play important roles in distributing seeds to maintain plants and forests. These species of bats, often called “flying foxes” because of their larger body size and big eyes, live in tropical and subtropical areas of the Old World (Africa, Asia and Australia). Fruit-eating bats are also found in some Pacific islands, Latin America and the Caribbean and live in national parks in Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands.
Just as some bats rely on thousands of insects each night for survival, other animals in the ecosystem rely on bats for their calories. Hawks, falcons and owls eat bats, and mammals like weasels, ringtail cats and raccoons sometimes attack bats while they roost.
Some of bats’ unique features like membrane wings and echolocation have inspired technological advances in engineering. Drones that have thin and flexible bat-like wings are in the works as well as tiny, more efficient sonar systems for navigation. The wingsuits used by base-jumpers take more than a few cues from bats’ aerodynamic bodies.
Kali Bradford may be reached by email at email@example.com.