Like birds, some bats play a critical role in spreading the seeds of trees and other plants. Some tropical fruit bats carry seeds inside them as they digest the fruit, then excrete the seeds far away from the original tree. These seeds drop to the ground in their own ready-made fertiliser, which helps them germinate and grow. Because bats help pollinate and disperse seeds, they can even play an important part in helping regrowth after forest clearance.

Even small bats can have an important part to play in seed dispersal, as recent research on neotropical bats in Central and South American forests suggests. These forests have been cleared and fragmented, while hunting and habitat loss has wiped out some populations of large bodied animals like deer and macaws. It had been thought that without these animals, many large-seeded plants would have no way of dispersing their seeds. However, researchers looked at seed dispersal both at random through the forest and underneath the tents of tentmaker bats. These studies have shown that the number of large seeds under the tents is higher than would occur at random, so tentmaker bats might be playing a crucial role in the dispersal of up to 44-65 large seeded plant species throughout the forest.

Bats as seed dispersers and reforesters

Shirley Thompson