BATS & FARMS
What role do bats play?
ABC's Bats & Farms project aims to provide a quantitative measure of the importance of bats to farms in Malawi, to facilitate ecological farming and contribute to national and regional agricultural policy development.
Agriculture accounts for one-third of Malawi’s GDP, 90 percent of export earnings, and three quarters of total employment. Principal exports are tobacco, sugar, tea and coffee, and bananas. Maize is the dominant subsistence crop, covering 80 per cent of all cultivated land.
Each of these crops has a number of damaging insect pest species that reduce yields and incomes. This poses a problem to both small-scale farmers whose crops and livelihood can be devastated, and large-scale farms which generally use high quantities of pesticide chemicals to protect the crops.
Bats are primary predators of night-flying insects, and many such insects rank among Southern Africa's most costly agricultural and forest pests. Some species can consume over 500 insects a night.
In addition to consuming insect pests, it is suggested that bats protect crops from pests by “chasing” away insects with their echolocation calls. Researchers saw a 50 percent reduction in damage to corn plots by corn borers when they broadcast bat-like ultrasound over test plots.
Bats and pest control in coffee
In 2018 in partnership with Satemwa Tea and Coffee Estate we completed an extensive exclosure study in Coffee Plantations in Southern Malawi. We conducted a blocked design experiment whereby bats were excluded from plants and leaf damage and harvest measured.
We demonstrated that bats control insect pests including Looper moths and leaf skeletonisers (pictured left). These data are currently in submission in a peer reviewed publication.
Bats and bananas
We are currently conducting a research programme at Kumbali Farm to assess the ecological importance of bats roosting and foraging in banana plantations.
This will involve understanding drivers of roost selection, patterns of roost fidelity, foraging and diet. Watch this space....