8 Jul 2020
Assessing Diversity and Distribution of Bats in Relation to Land-Use and Anthropogenic Threats in the Southern Western Ghats, India
My project takes a socio-ecological approach to evaluate the “irreplaceability” of insectivorous bat ecosystem services to agroforestry systems along India’s Western Ghats. The importance of bat ecosystem services (ES) such as insect pest control and guano use as fertilizer are well known, but their cultural context and appreciation need to be better understood, to evaluate the relevance of bat ES for their conservation and human wellbeing. In my project I aim to conduct interdisciplinary studies involving: 1) interviews with people to assess their perceptions, knowledge, and agricultural management practices involving bat ES, and 2) non-invasive field ecological and acoustic studies to quantify bat contribution of insect pest control and guano to agriculture, with associated tradeoffs between these benefits and potential costs (e.g. bio-fouling, cultural taboos). I hope that my project will offer a nuanced understanding of ecological and socio-cultural factors that will help reconcile bat conservation and human wellbeing.
Bat conservation depends strongly on public awareness and appreciation of their ecosystem services to society. In the current times, fostering the right kind of awareness is critical for bats. This is highly relevant for countries like India, where bats receive little formal protection. Insectivorous bats are insect pest controllers and their guano is used as fertilizer, which are important ecosystem services in agroforestry systems. However, with risks from these species yet unknown, it can be challenging to gain support for their conservation just based on arguments about ecosystem services. In this context, it is important to take a socio-ecological approach that can help reconcile bat conservation with human wellbeing.
We therefore need quantitative assessments of the value and future relevance of ecosystem services that can accrue from bat conservation to agriculture and people. How can benefits from bats be maximized, while we minimize any cultural, aesthetic ‘costs’ or fear of potential risks of sharing spaces with bats, is the question. Depending on socio-ecological and cultural contexts across different landscapes, various answers are likely.
In my project, I will attempt to find answers to this complex question. With the help of non-invasive methods such as acoustic sampling, studies of agricultural practices, and social interviews, I plan to investigate the “irreplaceability” of bat-generated ecosystem services. I will further assess their relevance for bat conservation in agroforestry systems, across different socio-ecological settings.
To assess irreplaceability, insectivorous bat contributions to agroforestry need to be evaluated alongside available manmade inputs (pesticides/fertilizers) to agriculture. This needs an understanding of local knowledge systems that can foster cultural recognition of bat ecosystem services. Further, the potential costs perceived by people can also modify their attitudes towards bats. Tradeoffs resulting from such benefits and costs can thus influence bat-human interactions and conservation outcomes across landscape contexts. My research hopes to generate a comprehensive understanding of interactions between benefits, costs and cultural processes in influencing bat conservation in different socio-ecological contexts. My project also aims to conduct research and community outreach in my study areas and contribute towards the ecologically and socially informed conservation of bats in India.