Shade-grown coffee serves as an important commuting route for bats and if properly managed, these coffee plantations can have significant ecological value for bats, a new study has said.
The study, published in the journal PLoS One, looked at shade-grown coffee farms in India that blend tree cover with agricultural crops.
Since agricultural landscapes occupy almost 40 per cent of the planet's ice-free land area, they hold immense potential for biodiversity conservation - if properly managed, it said.
The study, authored by Shasank Ongole and Mahesh Sankaran from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (India) in collaboration with Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) scientist Krithi K Karanth, finds that shade-grown coffee has some new fans - bats.
It said shade-grown coffee plantations are particularly important in this regard due to their structural similarity to forests and significant vegetation diversity.
"In India, surprisingly little is known about how insectivorous bats respond to human-induced changes in their habitat despite their common place nature and immense potential in regulating insects.
"We chose to focus on coffee farms because it is cultivated in the biodiversity rich areas of Western Ghats. We show that, in Chikmagalur district, coffee offers important areas for commuting and also perhaps feeding, for insect-eating bats. While this is encouraging, more studies are needed to understand how specific species cope with these changes," said lead author Ongole.
Using acoustic monitors that record bat sounds, the team detected a total of nine species across 20 coffee plantations.
Of the species found, five belonged to the Vesper bat (Vespertilionidae) family, while four belonged to the horseshoe bat (Rhinolophidae) and leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideridae) families, the study said.
"Our study showed that some bat species are coffee lovers.
"Properly managed shade-grown coffee plantations can have significant ecological value for bats, birds, insects and mammals an important finding as more land is converted to agricultural, with coffee the most widespread crop grown in 50 tropical countries," said Dr Karanth of the Centre for Wildlife Studies (India).
The authors further said research is needed to determine if future management decisions on plantations could affect more sensitive bat species.
Measuring ecosystem services provided by bats, such as pest control, can further inform biodiversity conservation initiatives in local coffee landscapes, it added.
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