Patrolling bats protect corn fields from pests

Myotis septentrionalis bat

Moth-munching bats play a key role in protecting corn crops from pests, new research suggests. 

Dave Thomas/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Bats help protect corn from pests and fungal infections, ecologists Josiah Maine and Justin Boyles report September 14 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bats commonly eat corn earworm moths, whose hungry larvae often ravage corn. When researchers blocked bats from an Illinois cornfield with nets, ears of corn within contained 56 percent more damaged kernels and 59 percent more corn earworm larvae compared with open fields. This corn also had more fungal infections—a byproduct of larva-induced damage.

Bats’ relative impact is probably reduced in fields with fewer pests or genetically modified pesticide-producing corn, but their pest control potential could be even higher than the study indicates, the authors write. They estimate that the nocturnal fliers provide corn farmers worldwide with more than 1 billion dollars’ worth of extra crop each year.  

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