Using bats to help tropical reforestation

April 29th, 2008 - 3:12 pm ICT by admin  

London, April 29 (IANS) German scientists have hit upon a novel yet cost-effective idea to revive reforestation in the tropics - by using bats as seed dispersers. They have designed bat roosts - replicating large, hollow trunks - to boost seed dispersal of a range of tropical plants.

“So far we have found 10 bat species using the roosts, and several of these are common and important seed dispersers,” said Detlev Kelm of the Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin.

“We measured the effect of the roosts on seed dispersal and found seeds of more than 60 plant species being transported by the bats.”

Tropical forests are of global ecological importance as they regulate carbon balance and host much of the world’s biodiversity.

Between 2000 and 2005, net losses of tropical forest cover averaged 0.18 percent annually and regionally even exceeded 1.5 percent in some Latin American countries.

Forests are usually replaced by agriculture and end up depleting soil of nutrients. Deforested areas rarely offer much food or protection for seed dispersers such as birds or mammals, so regeneration is hampered by a lack of natural seed inputs.

The alternative, replanting tropical forests, is too expensive and hardly a feasible option, and knowledge on how best to rapidly restore natural vegetation is generally lacking.

“We believe that bats could help in reforestation. They are able to cover large distances during their nightly foraging flights and are willing to enter deforested areas,” said Kelm.

These findings were published in Conservation Biology.

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