“The majority of the world’s 350,000 species of flowering plants rely on animal pollinators for reproduction” [Tremlett 2019: 2]. Of the many vertebrates performing this function, including birds, rodents, and reptiles, bats are thought to be the primary pollinators for about 1,000 species of plants across the tropics.
The authors of this study conducted this research in the municipality of Techaluta de Montenegro, Jalisco, Mexico, where they held exclusion experiments (alternately excluding different pollinator species) on Stenocereus queretaroensis, a type of cactus with edible fruit, to determine the efficiency of different pollinators. The experimental treatments allowed the authors to distinguish between nocturnal and diurnal (active in the daytime) pollinators, and between invertebrate and vertebrate pollinators.
Pollination carried out by birds and diurnal insects resulted in low seed sets, significantly lighter fruit weights, and lower sucrose concentrations compared to pollination carried out by bats.
This was the first research study to assess the impact of bat pollination on not only the quality of a high socio-economically important crop but also the yield of the crop.
We found that in the absence of pollination by nectarivorous bats, yield and quality (i.e. fruit weight, as size determines market value) of S. queretaroensis decreased significantly by 35% and 46% respectively. Hence, nectarivorous bats contribute substantially to the economic welfare of the rural production region [Tremlett 2019: 6].
However, despite its economic value, the significance of pollination by bats is not valued and appreciated. It is important to recognize the ecosystem services provided by bats, which might be crucial to sustaining rural livelihoods and well-being.
Tremlett, Constance J., et al., 2019, Pollination by bats enhances both quality and yield of a major cash crop in Mexico, Journal of Applied Ecology, http://doi.org/0.1111/1365-2664.13545.