As you may know, this is Bat Week where people aim to raise awareness of all things bat. I’m going to contribute by writing an article that was suggested by Louise (click her name to see her work) in an earlier post which I wrote.
Bats are what are known as an “indicator species”, which simply means that the presence (or absence) of bats can indicate how healthy an ecosystem is. The reasons for this are numerous and there is a full paper below should you be curious. To summarise though, bats are very fussy little creatures. Things like pollution, deforestation, climate change and agriculture can all cause bat populations to suffer. Therefore if bats are present we can usually imply that an area is “healthy” as otherwise there would be no bats.
Bats as indicator species is not a particularly new theory but it is one that was never really recognised. I went through a 4-year university degree without anybody mentioning it. Come to think of it I am not sure anyone actually mentioned bats (maybe I was asleep?). A more common example of indicator species are lichens, which do not grow in areas of high pollution.
In many ways bats are ideal for use as indicator species. Bats can be surveyed easily and in a variety of ways (feeding rates, numbers seen, population etc), they are geographically well spread, and they show clear responses to change in their habitat. They also reproduce slowly which means they do not evolve rapidly to changes and so their populations tend to drop when facing adverse stimuli. Of course bats are also vital for crop success and pest control. Keeping the bats happy means the need for less agricultural chemicals and prevents a vicious cycle whereby the more chemicals are used, the fewer bats there are and the more chemicals need to be used.
Essentially, bats are critically overlooked in just about all aspects. Encouraging people to protect bats will likely result in a benefit to whole ecosystems. In a sense we need to make bats a sort of flagship species, like a panda. People try to save the flagship species and this results in the saving of habitats and the protection of many other species. It certainly doesn’t do any harm to protect bats and there are many ways you can help which are given in a link below.