It’s nighttime. A light breeze ripples across the Alberta prairies, rustling through the reeds and grasses of a marsh. Nestled within are roosting ducks, humming insects and frogs, half submerged in cool mud where they croak into the night. Above, against a canopy of newly emerged stars, dark shapes weave and dip silently between sky and wetland. These mysterious airborne hunters of the night are both small and integral: They’re bats.
Often, bats and wetlands are not thought of in the same context, yet they are closely intertwined. Bats are apex predators that rely heavily on the insects in wetland ecosystems to survive. In turn, wetland biodiversity is strengthened by the bats that frequent them.
Bats make up one-quarter of all mammal species. There are 1,400 bat species worldwide, and nine of the 19 found in Canada live in Alberta. All Canadian bat species eat only insects, are nocturnal, and feed during the night.
The role bats play in a healthy ecosystems
As predators, bats contribute to the biodiversity of ecosystems, particularly within wetland ecosystems, creating an important balance by consuming insects.
“Generally, bats are quite well connected with wetlands. Little brown bats will feed on mayflies and that sort of thing as they’re emerging from the water,” says Lauren Hooton, a PhD candidate and bat researcher from Trent University.
The services bats provide help to control entire ecosystems. Without bats, other species of animals and vegetation would overpopulate and there would be a significant loss in biodiversity, notes Hooton.
According to James Paterson, a DUC research scientist who studies biodiversity in wetland ecosystems, “wetlands provide a large number of services that benefit society, including carbon storage, water flow regulation, and improving water quality. These benefits rely on biodiversity in wetlands, and bats are a part of those systems. They also help regulate our climate, and provide habitat for species that have other benefits.”
Generally, bats are quite well connected with wetlands. Little brown bats will feed on mayflies and that sort of thing as they’re emerging from the water.
Bats: a natural control for agricultural pests
Beyond supporting biodiversity and playing a role in essential ecosystems, like forests and wetlands, bats also act as natural pest control.
“They definitely are great consumers of agricultural pests,” says Hooton. “There are numerous agricultural crops that benefit from bats.”
Big and little brown bats, which are common in Alberta, are capable of eating their body weight in insects each night, making them effective at reducing the number of insects like moths and beetles that harm plants. Bats flourish on farms and landscapes that have wetlands.
Hooton encourages people to allow bats to perform their important work in our environment, and to overlook the many myths that have been falsely attributed to them throughout human history.
“They’re at more risk from humans than we are from them.”