SARChI Chair University of Venda

The University of Venda based South African Research Chair in Biodiversity and Change in the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve is a vibrant hub for biodiversity science, training and conservation application in the Southern African Development Community – a body of established and emerging researchers, postgraduate and postdoctoral candidates. The Research Chair, co-hosted by the Centre for Invasion Biology at the University of Stellenbosch, is funded by the Department of Science and Technology and administered by the National Research Foundation.

Bats are major predators of crop pests worldwide. Our research in collaboration with the South African Macadamia Growers’ Association has shown that the diet of bats roosting or feeding in macadamia orchards in Levubu frequently contain pest green vegetable stinkbugs (Nezara viridula). Stinkbugs cause losses of R50 million annually to the macadamia industry. Almost certainly, bats play an important role in the integrated pest management of stink bug pests in macadamia orchards, but this role can and should be quantified (using economic models based on accurate data on the monetary value of bats in terms of reduced costs of insect damage control) in relation to potential management options (such as bat houses). This is the primary aim of three new projects which have been informed by global research developments and collaboration.

Firstly, a new MSc study at University of Venda in collaboration with the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen will determine variation in the diet of two bat species (Nycteris thebaica and Mops midas) throughout the year in relation to population estimates of bats and two pest complexes (the Heteroptera “stink bug” and Torticidae moth complexes). It is hoped that this study will lead to a more accurate estimation of the actual biomass of pest stinkbugs consumed by bats.

A second project (PHD student Valerie Linden) planned to start in 2015 aims to exclude insectivorous bats and birds from macadamia trees in order to obtain direct estimates of the overall “avoided costs” value of bats. These data will be used to develop economic models to accurately calculate the economic value of bats to macadamia growers.

A third, recently initiated project will monitor some 72 bat houses of at least four designs in macadamia orchards placed in two macadamia-growing regions of Levubu and Tzaneen. A novel “tower” design will be tested which will hopefully provide bats with adequate thermal insulation.

Slit-faced bat carrying stinkbug. Copyright M. Tuttle. Used with permission.

Slit-faced bat carrying stinkbug. Copyright M. Tuttle. Used with permission.

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  • Peter Taylor Peter Taylor