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Feeding the Bats Conservation group plants nectar sources


ather than swooping in the night, chowing down on mosquitos and other little flying critters, there are some bats that survive by sipping the nectar of native plants. Two of those are endemic to New Mexico. Melia Bayless, senior director at Bat Conservation International (BCI) is an ecologist and has been with BCI for 14 years. “Not a lot of people in New Mexico realize there are three species of bats that drink nectar,” Bayless said. “New Mexico, Arizona and Texas are the only states that have these nectorvious species.” Lesser long nose, Mexican long nose and Mexican long tongue bats all have jobs to do as they feed from and pollinate the native plants iconic for southern New Mexico. In New Mexico these bats provide critical pollination services in native species. They are also important to seed dispersal. “They pollinate many of our native agave and large night blooming cacti,”

Volunteers with Bat Conservation International plant agave plants in the desert to encourage Mexican and lesser ling-nose bats to roost in the area. (Photos by Dan Taylor, courtesy of Bat Conservation International)

she said. In southern New Mexico and Mexico many native plants have evolved with bats as pollinators. The blue agave, where tequila comes from, is closely involved with the bat population. Bayless said many refer to the Mexican long tongue bat as the tequila bat. BCI has taken on the job of helping the nectorvious bat species survive by protecting the roosts, caves and mines they live in. BCI’s efforts intend to stabilize the populations of the species, especially the Mexican long-nosed bat which is susceptible to roost disturbance and habitat destruction. “Basically, we need to do surveys to see if we can find additional roosts,” she said. “We need to protect those we know about and monitor the bat populations within those caves and mines.” To complete the work, BCI needs to conduct systematic surveys where the bats are known to be. Or, find them through acoustic monitoring — listening with special devices that pick up their calls in the ultrasonic. By monitoring the areas, researchers can do exit counts at roosts or use more highly sophisticated ways of monitoring. Researchers have identified a handful of roosts in southern New Mexico, most in the bootheel. But Bayless thinks there may be more and would like to complete more surveys to find them. “Animals need three things where they are living,” she said. “They need a place to live, food and they need open water for drinking.” Mexican long-nosed bat estimated population size has plummeted by 50 percent in the last decade. All the species are important pollinators. Their activities are vital for several species of agave and cactus throughout their range which extends from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras in the winter to summer roosts in southwest New Mexico and southern Arizona. To protect the bats’ food source, BCI is looking for places to do native restoration for landscapes by

Lesser long-nosed bat. (Photo by Bruce D. Tauert, courtesy of Bat Conservation International)

planting agaves. The group also has collaborations in place to improve drinking water quality. “The water restoration work primarily is in the Gila,” Bayless said. “Bats have to drink while they are flying. It’s touch-and-go drinking.” Much of the restoration work involves slowing down the streams and protecting native vegetation, which is also relevant for fish and frogs. Bayless said while no roosts have been found in the Gila the area is in migratory pathways. The two long nosed bat species are migratory. “They winter in Mexico and follow blooming agave into the United States,” she said. “Many populations of those bats will give birth and raise young in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. They are really only here in early summer months and they move all the way down into southern Mexico.” Private landowners are pitching into the efforts to help the bats by planting agave in their lands in the New Mexico bootheel and throughout the very Southern part of the state. There may be opportunities for other people to participate when it comes to planting agave. BCI greenhouses grow agave plants for three years before sending them out to be planted in the desert, the best time for the plants’ survival, she said. We have put out about 1,500 agaves and have another 6,000 growing now to be ready to be planted in 2 to 3 years,” Bayless said. “We are working with Mexican partners to protect roosts in Sonora too. We welcome groups, including youth groups, that have some

way to help us think about planting in remote areas.” A recent partnership with XTO Energy has boosted BCI’s ability to protect the roosting sites and food sources of the lesser long-nosed bat and the federally endangered Mexican long-nosed bat by means of a generous donation. “Thanks to XTO Energy we have additional resources to protect two at-risk bat species through a proven strategy of roost and food source protection,” said Kevin Pierson, BCI’s chief conservation officer. “We’re working hard to ensure the survival of these species and to continue to develop private industry partners that share our commitment to saving important species.” Bayless said the collaboration shows that the interests of business and the environment are not mutually exclusive. “You can make a difference while still making a profit,” she said of XTO Energy’s contribution. She said local communities are also important. People wishing to help in the area of bat conservation in general, can do so by talking about bats, learning more about bats and doing presentations. People can join BCI, she said. If they are interested in conducting surveys, they can contact BCI about nationwide opportunities for bat conservation. The mission of BCI is to conserve the world’s bats and their ecosystems to ensure a healthy planet. For more information visit Bat Conservation International nursery raises agave plants until they are 3 years old and ready to be placed in the desert to provide bats with nectar.

Mexican longnosed bat. (Photo by Winifred Frick, courtesy of Bat Conservation International)

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Desert Exposure - May 2019  

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