Contributions of Cave-roosting Bats in Cambodian Agroecosystems
Dr. Emma Willcox, Assistant Professor in Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries, masters student, Reilly Jackson, of the same department, and Dr. Dave Ader, Postdoctoral Research Associate in International Programs, traveled to Cambodia this summer to collect pilot data on the role of bats in agroecosystems. They are part of a seven-member team, which also includes Adam Willcox, Assistant Professor in Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries; John Moulton, Associate Professor in Entomology and Plant Pathology; Veronica. Brown, Coordinator UT Genomics Hub; and Riley Bernard, Postdoctoral Associate, The Pennsylvania State University. Bats provide essential agro-ecological services to agricultural systems by helping to control pests and providing guano, bat droppings, which can be used as fertilizer. With increasing mining activities negatively affecting bat habitat in Cambodia, UTIA researchers are examining how these pressures on the bat population impact the natural pest control of the agricultural systems, as these predator-prey relationships have not been clearly identified among these species of bats and pests.
Willcox, Jackson, and Ader spent the past field season collecting fecal and blood samples from captured bats. Jackson explains, “From these samples, as well as some echolocation call files collected from captured bats, echolocation calls collected in adjacent rice fields, and insects collected in rice fields, we hope to eventually be able to show which species of cave roosting bats are foraging over these agriculture areas and what sort of impact they may have on the insect communities preying on the agriculture products.” As a masters student, Jackson also received funding from Bat Conservation International and from the McClure Foundation of UTK.
Now that field data have been collected, the team will analyze the data and make associations between bat species and the insects they consume. They look toward sharing their findings with the Cambodian government and wildlife managers to effectively mitigate the negative pressures on bat populations and, subsequently, the adjacent agricultural lands in Cambodia.