ChiroSurveillance: The use of native bats to detect invasive agricultural pests
Invasive insect pests cost the U.S. agricultural industry billions of dollars in crop losses and associated management each year. Timely detection of invasive pest irruptions is critical to effective integrated pest management (IPM) because management efficiency decreases exponentially with time since detection. Developing innovative cost-effective strategies that maximize sampling resolution across space and time may improve detectability and ultimately control of invasive insect pests. Due to their high foraging efficiency and diverse diet, temperate insectivorous bats may be important agents of invasive species surveillance. We tested this concept by examining the extent to which big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) detect brown marmorated stink bugs (Halyomorpha halys; BMSB), a severe invasive pest, in agricultural landscapes. Using a newly developed highly sensitive molecular assay to identify BMSB DNA remnants, we document consistent seasonal predation on BMSB by big brown bats.
Our results demonstrate that big brown bats recognize BMSB as a prey item, and they incorporate BMSB as a common dietary component across the season. Big brown bats detected BMSB three to four weeks earlier than blacklight traps across all sites. Although our work highlights the unrecognized and underexploited potential role of bats as agents of invasive species surveillance, it also points to the need for additional work examining the effectiveness and feasibility of chirosurveillance at large scales. Robust economic analyses can then determine the cost-effectiveness of chirosurveillance as a standard IPM strategy. Regardless, the identification of invasive species surveillance as a new ecosystem service provided by bats provides much-needed evidence for articulating the consequences of catastrophic declines of bats from White-Nose Syndrome and wind turbines and increasing public acceptance of bats as critical to human quality of life.