Bats provide a critical ecosystem service by consuming a large diversity of agricultural pest insects

Brooke Maslo, Rebecca L. Mau, Kathleen Kerwin, Ryelan McDonough, Erin McHale, Jeffrey T. Foster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Biodiversity directly influences the delivery of multiple ecosystem services, most notably within agriculture. Projected future global demands for food, fiber and bioenergy will require enhancement of agricultural productivity, but favoring biodiversity-based ecosystem services generally remains underutilized in agricultural practice. In addition, agricultural intensification is a key driver of biodiversity loss. A significant obstacle preventing the adoption of ecologically sensitive practices is a lack of knowledge of the species delivering the services. Insectivorous bats have long been suggested to regulate insect pest populations and may be a critical component of biodiversity-based ecosystem services. Bats may also serve as agents of insect pest surveillance through environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring approaches. However, the biological and economic importance of bats to agriculture remains under-quantified. Here we catalogued the dietary niche of two North American bats, little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) and big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), through DNA metabarcoding of guano collected from seven roosting sites over a 26-week period. We measured the frequency of occurrence of known pest species in guano samples, compared interspecific differences in diet, and examined seasonal patterns in prey selection. Overall, we detected 653 unique prey species, 160 of which were known agricultural pests or disease vectors. Species diversity of prey species consumed varied by bat species and across the season, with big brown bats accounting for the majority of arthropod diversity detected. However, little brown bats consumed relatively more aquatic insects than big brown bats, suggesting that increased bat species richness in a landscape can amplify their net pest regulation service. Further, we hypothesized that detection probabilities of target insect pests would be higher in guano samples than in conventional survey methods. Multi-survey occupancy modeling revealed significantly lower detectability in bat guano than in conventional monitoring traps, however, highlighting important tradeoffs in selection of survey methods. Overall, the results presented here contribute to a growing evidence base supporting the role bats play in the provisioning of biodiversity-based ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107722
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
StatePublished - Feb 1 2022


  • Bat diet
  • Biological control
  • Chirosurveillance
  • Ecological intensification
  • Metabarcoding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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