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SEF Goes Batty!

We are proud to announce that SEF has recently added a bat detector to our artillery of ecological assessment tools…

Apart from some fruit bat species, most bats orientate and hunt by means of a highly sophisticated system of echolocation which emits high-frequency sounds that are beyond the range of the human ear. The transformation of ultrasound into a signal audible to the human ear requires a specialised piece of equipment called a bat detector. Without such equipment the identification of bat species on a site is very difficult and time consuming. In the past SEF simply included a survey of bat habitat in their ecological reports but since we acquired a bat detector, we will now be able to include robust bat data into our ecological assessments. This will not only increase our knowledge of the ecology of sites proposed for developments within the commercial, industrial, residential, mining, transport and energy sectors, but will also allow us to offer specialist bat surveys for Wind Energy Facility Developments and will enhance our Vertical Ecology assessments which we showcased in the January newsletter.

So what makes bats so interesting…

There are approximately 1 200 known bat species on the planet and they account for nearly one fifth of the world’s mammal species. They are the second largest mammal group (after rodents) and have inhabited the earth for more than 50 million years. Unfortunately a large proportion of the world’s bat species (over one fifth) is currently threatened.Southern Africais home to 116 confirmed species of bat, of which 21 species are endemic or near-endemic. Twenty-two southern African bat species are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as having a global threat status while in South Africa, two species are classified as Critically Endangered, two as Endangered, six as Vulnerable, and 20 as Near Threatened. Bats are threatened by habitat loss through urbanisation, agriculture and mining, wind turbines, disease and persecution through ignorance and intolerance.

Bats provide essential economic as well as ecosystem services. They are important in terms of seed dispersal (fruit bats) and pollination and are largely responsible for the pollination of many of South Africa’s agricultural crops such as pecans, avocadoes, mangoes and peaches. Economically they are also important because they consume vast numbers of insect pests worldwide each year (a medium-sized bat can consume between 2 000 and 4 000 insects every night), aiding agriculture and disease control. An article published in the New Scientist magazine in 1999 reported that bats were found to be responsible for a 55% reduction in crop damage in pear orchards in California. Bats are also important to medical research due to their rapidly healing wing membrane and to scientific research where their echolocation is studied for the advancement of sonar and radar.

Being at the top of the food chain means that bats can be used as key indicators of environmental health as well as biodiversity, as they depend on the health, diversity and abundance of the trophic levels below them.

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