Bats make up one-fifth of all terrestrial mammals (1,300 species), however they are among the most endangered of the world’s creatures, primarily because of deforestation, overhunting and persecution. Because bats eat, disperse and pollinate more than 300 plant species from 59 families, and are key predators of agricultural insect pests, their loss has serious consequences for the ecosystems to which they belong.
In fact, fruit bats are the primary means of seed dispersal for many tropical plant species. By visiting flowers in search of nectar, the bats pick up and deposit pollen from flower to flower, allowing viable seeds and fruits to grow. In addition, bats disperse the seeds of fruits by carrying off the fruit to eat it or depositing seeds in their droppings as they fly. Because fruit bats can fly long distances, they are able to move between trees and plants that are widely separated, helping maintain forest diversity and regenerate forests at a landscape scale. In certain areas of the tropics, bats are responsible for 95% of the regrowth of the rainforests.
Flying foxes are particularly important in oceanic islands where they are often the only flying animals big enough to transport larger seeds. Flying foxes have been shown to be the sole pollinator and seed disperser of the silk cotton tree on the island of Samoa in the south Pacific. Nectar feeding bats are important pollinators of many wild and important agricultural plants like durian, mangoes, cashew, figs, balsa, dates, kapok and others. Certain flowers are designed specifically to be pollinated by bats. Some fruits have an unusual smell, like the infamous durian of Southeast Asia, which is repellent to humans but appealing to fruit bats, and may have evolved for that reason.
It is estimated that more than 186 different plants that yield products used by humans are entirely or partially reliant upon bats’ contribution to seed dispersal and pollination. Thus, any threat to the world’s fruit bat population must be considered with the wider reaching consequences of their extinction. If the fruit bats go, the ecosystem will suffer. This will be felt at every level including fruit agriculture, which has a highly significant role in the economies of tropical countries.