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Assam study shows bats are crucial for natural pest control in paddy fields


by Sneha Mahale

  • insectivorous bats were found to suppress pests and reduce damage to rice crops in a study in Assam.
  • Insectivorous bats are generalist eaters; their diet includes a variety of pests, including those that damage crops.
  • Greater legal protection and funding for studies focusing on bat ecology would go a long way in helping understand and conserve the mammals.

Findings from a recent study conducted in Assam suggest that bats can have a positive impact on rice ecosystems. In the study, conducted over the Sali (winter) rice season of 2019, insectivorous bats were found to help reduce damage to rice crops by suppressing pests, thus protecting yield.

“There is no doubt that bats are incredibly important to agricultural landscapes. I hope that in the next few years we can get to a more definite answer as to exactly what their economic value is in Indian agriculture,” says Iqbal Bhalla, one of the researchers of the study that was published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme was introduced in India in 1992, to reduce dependence on pesticides in agriculture. It combines the use of biological, cultural and chemical practices to control insect pests in agricultural production. Under the programme, natural predators such as fish, frogs, parasitoids and ducks have been used to control agricultural pests over the years.

In the last decade, bats for pest management have gained traction. Insectivorous bats are generalist eaters. Their diet includes a variety of pests, including those that damage crops. They can thus suppress resident pest populations, and act as a buffer against sudden outbreaks or the invasion of new pest species. “Their diet is also complemented by their high mobility. It allows them to change foraging grounds and survive on different prey when crop pests are not available. They can also help limit the spread of disease by reducing the number of disease vectors, such as mosquitoes and flies,” says Hitesh Jha, an independent wildlife biologist studying bats in Maharashtra.

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