The Contribution of Desert-Dwelling Bats to Pest Control in Hyper-Arid Date Agriculture

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Over 40% of the Earth's surface has been converted to agricultural use and agroecosystems have become important habitats for wildlife. In arid regions, intensive agriculture creates artificial oasis-like habitats due to their high irrigation inputs. Date production is one of the primary agricultural practices in the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa. Insectivorous bats are known to use agricultural areas, but the role of date plantations as their foraging habits and the importance of insectivorous bats as date bio-pest control agents are still unknown. We assessed the role of date plantations as foraging habitats for local desert bat species by acoustically recording bat activity in conventional and organic date plantations in the southern Arava Valley, Israel. In addition, we captured bats in the plantations and collected feces for DNA metabarcoding analysis to investigate the presence of pest species in their diets. We found that 12 out of the 16 known species of bats in this region frequently used both conventional and organic date plantations as foraging habitats. Species richness was highest in the organic plantation with complex ground vegetation cover. Foraging activity was not affected by plantation type or management. However, bat species richness and activity increased in all plantations during summer date harvesting. Molecular analysis confirmed that bats feed on a variety of important date pests, but the particular pests consumed and the extent of consumption varied among bat species. Our results highlight a win-win situation, whereby date plantations are an important foraging habitat for desert bats, while bats provide bio-pest control services that benefit the date plantations. Therefore, date farmers interested in bio-pest control should manage their plantations to support local desert bat populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1034
Issue number12
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2022

    Research areas

  • insectivorous bats, date palms, pest control, sustainable agriculture, desert, agroecosystems, integrated pest management, INSECTIVOROUS BATS, COMMUNITY, MOTH, DNA, AGROECOSYSTEMS, MANAGEMENT, DIVERSITY, BIOLOGY, LAND

ID: 332612757