Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Bats Good for Plants, Sometimes



Flying-foxes
, or fruit bats, pollinate flowers and spread seed. In places like the Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, they also kill trees while roosting during the day – destroying growing tips and dislodging leaves. Insect-eating bats are generally win-win for a plant.

When Chris Booth’s rock sculpture is finished, there will be crevices and caves for the smaller, insect-eating bats to make their home in the Royal Botanic Gardens. There will also be room for lizards and other assorted animals.

All this will be good for the plants in the botanic gardens and nearby. A study out of the University of California argues that insect-eating bats, as well as birds and lizards, will even help plants ‘battle against global climate change’.

Based on over 100 experiments, ecologist Kailen Mooney and fellow researchers feel they have proved the often assumed relationship between insect-eating animals and plant growth.

It’s a simple theory. The bats, birds and lizards eat insects that would otherwise eat the plants. The complication is that they also eat spiders and insects that eat plant-eating insects. That is, they might actually remove more insects that feed on insects than insects that feed on plants…

The study showed that, on balance, their insect grazing helps the plant. While they eat both kinds of insects, and spiders, there is a ‘net negative effect on plant-feeding insects’. The link to climate change, I gather, is that anything that helps a plant remain vigorous will help it adapt to extreme conditions.

So this is good news for the environment, good news for everyone with a healthy garden ecosystem, and good news for the Royal Botanic Gardens when it gets its new sculpture.

Image: a poster available from sale from various websites (e.g. http://www.speleobooks.com/post.html)

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