The value of bat pollination services

Bats are often getting bad rep, but did you know how important they are for pollinating major cash crops?

12/14/2020 | 12:25 PM

A new paper has been published in Ecosystem Services by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Southampton, UK, the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and the Centro Interdisciplinario de Investigación para el Desarrollo Integral Regional CIDIIR Durango, Mexico. The study shows the high economic value of bat pollination services to crop production in central Mexico and the subsequent distribution of economic benefit among actors in the commodity chain.

Exclusion experiments had shown bat pollination enhances both yield and quality of the pitaya, a fleshy cactus fruit that is an important regional crop. This empirical data was combined with yield and marketing data collected from pitaya producers, and data on income of different actors throughout the pitaya commodity chain. 

Bat pollination services were worth ~$2,500 per ha per year, with bats contributing around 40% of gross income across producers. Bats provide a key seasonal income at a time of low agricultural activity, supporting rural livelihoods and household activities. 

Connie Tremlett, who led the research, comments: “This highlights the severe economic consequences should bat pollinator populations decline. Our study provides a strong argument for the conservation of bat populations in the production area”.

“However, the commercialisation of the pitaya has concentrated economic benefits with privileged groups who have access to land and markets. Initiatives are needed to ensure that benefits from bat pollination are distributed more fairly across actors”.

Marije Schaafsma, IVM researcher and corresponding author, says: “This is an exciting example of interdisciplinary research. We combined ecological exclusion experiments, plantation yield data and value chain analysis to develop a new approach for valuing pollination services. This approach can also be applied to value the benefits of services by other animal pollinators and other crops, and importantly, to assess the distribution of those benefits across actors”. 

Pitaya fruit