Bat as pollinator

Bats play an important role in the pollination of many wild plants and crops. Bats and plants that they pollinate have been engaged in coevolutionary processes for millions of years, which resulted in the most impressive morphological, physiological, and behavioural adaptations in the world.
Bat are important pollinators

Nectar bats are found in tropical ecosystems. Most of them are recorded in Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Those nectar-eating bats are known to pollinate more than 520 flowering plant species. Many of these are famous fruits that humans endorse such as mango, mangosteen, jackfruit, and durian. Some wild banana species are pollinated by bats exclusively. Those species that depend exclusively on bat pollinations are called “Chiropterophilous plants”.

As pollinators, bats can directly impact the yields and qualities of some tropical fruits. For example, durian flowers that were pollinated by bats had significantly higher changes to set fruits compared to flowers that were not. A study conducted in Malaysia suggested that bats help durian framers save up to 117USD a hectare every durian flowering season. This is the amount of money durian farmers need to spend on every hectare of durian garden just to achieve the similar pollinating success and fruit quality that bats pollination does.

Differences between bat and insect pollinators

Compared to most insect pollinators,  bats can travel greater distances. Some nectar bats can fly up to 40km every night for foraging. In addition, the fur of the bat can carry a much larger amount of pollens compared to insects. As the result, bats can help spread more pollens to further distances. For these reasons, the bat is important in maintaining gene flow and genetic diversity among many plant populations.

Bees can't carry much pollen grains as bats. Source: Unsplash
Adaptations of bats and Chiropterophilous plants in pollination

Bat pollination can be described as a four-step process: First, bats fly to the flowers of a plant to eat nectar. Second, pollen grains stick to their body. Third, bats fly to other plants for feed. Finally, pollen grains are transferred from bat’s body to flowers. Though it sounds simple, this process is a perfect combination of bat and Chiropterophilous plants. Bats that act as pollinators are adapted to obtain their energy from nectar, and also sometimes from pollen. To do this, bats evolved extremely well-adapted characteristics such as long snouts and long tongues that let them dip in and out of flowers while hovering in mid-air. To help the cause, their tongues are covered in tiny hairs that allow for fast and efficient nectar collecting.

Agave flower is a Chiropterophilous plant. Source: Unsplash

Chiropterophilous plants also tend to open after sunset. A common characteristic of chiropterophilous flowers is their pale colors and their standing-out location from the tree’s foliage. They also have wide flower mouths, sturdy structures, and plenty of nectars to accommodate and attract bats.