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Bats make good friends in the fight to protect crops from pests

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Scientists at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that Kuhl’s pipistrelle bats pray upon different insects that threatened crops and livestock

By ILANIT CHERNICK

Insect-eating bats are incredibly useful to have around when trying to protect crops, especially cotton, from pests. 

This is according to scientists at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) who have investigated the feeding habits of Kuhl’s pipistrelle, a small bat that roosts and forages in urban and agricultural habitats. 

They found that the bat preyed upon a number of different insects that threatened crops and livestock. Among them, one of the most destructive pests of cotton crops, the pink bollworm.

BGU explained that cotton is a multibillion-dollar industry but insects who prey upon crops can be devastating. 

“Massive use of pesticides is both harmful to the environment and expensive,” the university explained in a statement. “Conservation biological control is an alternative and sustainable method that seeks to encourage natural enemies such as predators of insect pests in agroecosystems.”

According to BGU, the team used DNA traces of prey found in the droppings of bats to identify the types of insects that were eaten. 

They also discovered that as the pink bollworm population increased, the bats hunted them more than other insects. 

“This is especially important as pink bollworm is a growing concern to cotton farmers around the world since it is capable of developing resistance to pesticides and genetically modified cotton. “Our study highlights the benefits of insect eating bats that are abundant in human habitats but their contribution to humans was poorly known,” said Yuval Cohen, the study’s lead author and a former BGU Masters student. 

Supervisors of the study, Prof. Carmi Korine and Dr. Shirli Bar-David of the Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology, also recommended “that farmers adjust their thinking and consider bats their good friends.”

Korine stressed that “we should be aware of the functional importance of common species of bats in urban environments for ecosystem functioning and human society. 

“Particularity now when bats are negatively and often unjustifiably stereotyped due to COVID-19,” she added.

The researchers explained that Kuhl’s pipistrelle feeds on a range of other potential disease transmitters such as mosquitos or bothersome insects such as midges. 

“The findings indicate that the bats could potentially contribute to suppress additional unwanted insects around humans,” they continued. “The results offer important evidence of the crucial ecosystem service provided by a common bat species.”

According to BGU, the study is part of ongoing research on the role of insect-eating bats in pest suppression in other agriculture systems such as corn, vineyards, apples and date plantations carried out by Korine’s group.

The research took place in cotton fields in Emek Hefer in central Israel.

The research was also supervised by the Swiss Institute for Dryland Environmental and Energy Research, Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research (BIDR) at BGU, in collaboration with

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