Methods for Bat Conservation

Understanding the importance of bat conservation could mean the difference between survival and extinction for many bat species.

  • Bats have accidents, too. Some also get hooked up on thoughtlessly discarded fishing line hanging from trees.
    Photo by Phil Richardson
  • Bat roosting boxes can be of different designs to suit different species.
    Photo by Phil Richardson
  • This purpose-made bat brick in the roof of a hibernaculum is being used by two brown long-eared bats, Plecotus auritus, and a Natterer’s bat, Myotis nattereri.
    Photo by Phil Richardson
  • Improving a hibernaculum by reducing the flow of air through a disused railway tunnel.
    Photo by Phil Richardson
  • Grilles like this allow bats access into underground sites, but exclude humans.
    Photo by Phil Richardson
  • “Bats” by Phil Richardson describes the amazing and bizarre world of bats.
    Photo by Phil Richardson

Bats are under threat in many areas of the world. Some have declined to such an extent that the numbers remaining may not be enough to sustain the species. Some species, such as the Guam flying fox, Pteropus tokudae, the Puerto Rican flower bat, Phyllonycteris major, and the New Zealand greater short-tailed bat, Mystacina robusta, have become extinct in recent times. Species most at risk are those living in isolation and those living at low densities; any changes to their environment could wipe out the species. Some fruit bats on isolated Pacific and Indian Ocean islands, such as the Comoro black flying fox, Pteropus livingstonii, and the Marianas flying fox, Pteropus mariannus, are at great risk of extinction. Some microbats living in one small area are also threatened such as the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, Craseonycteris thonglongyai, on the Thai-Burmese border.

Biodiversity and Food Chains

Threats to bat populations matters not just because bats are fascinating creatures in their own right. Our increasing familiarity with the term biodiversity from television, newspapers, magazines and other media reflects the importance biologists place on this aspect of conservation. They are realizing that the more diversity there is in animal and plant populations, then the healthier is the environment.

The easiest way to appreciate what is involved is to recall the concept of food chains and webs from biology lessons at school. It all starts with the producers, the plants that manufacture the food in their leaves by photosynthesis. Animals such as caterpillars then join the chain and eat the leaves, other animals such as birds eat the caterpillars, and so on up the chain. If a species dies out, then there is a break in the chain, and predators that relied on that species could also die or grow weaker as there is less food available. If, like the microbats, an animal is at the end of the food chain and it becomes extinct, then the creatures that it preyed upon will increase in number and compete with others for food and space, so upsetting other food chains.

The fruit bats and some microbats have an even more direct effect. By pollinating plants and dispersing their seeds in the course of feeding, they ensure the survival of many species of trees and other plants and the recolonization of cleared forest. So we have more diversity, but how does it affect us humans? Many of us have become so used to hunting and gathering our food from supermarket shelves rather than in the forests that we forget about the vital importance of food chains. All our food is reliant on plants, and the plants are mostly reliant on animal visitors to pollinate them, creatures such as bees, birds and bats that are all part of food chains.

Maintaining a Balance

There is another important point, a single insect-eating bat may eat hundreds of insects a night, and there are few other nocturnal insect-eaters. Most birds for instance, feed in the daytime on a different set of day-flying insects. Take away a small roost of a hundred bats and there will be a large number of extra insects flitting around the area each night. So bats help to keep a balance in the natural world. Furthermore, they are a great help to humans, as farmland, gardens and house timbers all suffer attacks from insect pests and bats are instrumental in keeping down their numbers.

Hands-on Conservation

One of the most effective steps people can take to help microbats is to increase the number of roosting sites available to them.

9/3/2021 5:23:07 PM

I recently read somewhere that Bill Gates is involved with a project to sterilize mosquitos. I suppose being sooo smart, he never considered how this "good deed" would impact other species such as bats and dragon flies.

9/3/2021 4:45:35 PM

A. very informative article. I was about to purchase one of those little bat houses for sale but now must reconsider. I had no idea.

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