BAT CONSERVATION PROGRAM 

ISLANDS OF ARUBA, BONAIRE AND CURACAO

 

STRATEGIC PLAN 2014-2018

(FIRST DRAFT)

  

Fernando Simal

Bonaire, October 19th, 2013

PPR (Acronym in Papiamento for Bat Conservation Program)

A comprehensive, all-inclusive and diverse group of people and institutions representing their country and working for the welfare of bats, having as core activities the interactions between research, education and conservation. PPRABC is a member of RELCOM (Acronym is Spanish for Latin America and Caribbean Network of Bat Conservation) www.relcomlatinomerica.net

 

 

Introduction

 

Bats provide us with extremely important ecological services that impact directly in our life quality. One single bat is able to eat more than one thousand mosquitos in only one hour. 75% of bat species eat insects, a factor which makes them crucial allies and fundamental for agriculture. Their value as a unit of pest control has been valued in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually per each 100km2 of crops. Furthermore, several bat species feed on fruits and disperse seeds of many species of ecological and economic importance. It has been shown that bats are the most important seed dispersers of tropical forests and this dispersion through bats is one of the most important mechanisms of natural regeneration of the rainforests. Moreover, many plants ecological and economically important depend on bats for their pollination, some of them exclusively.

 

According to Dinerstain et al. (1995), the arid ecosystem of the Caribbean is characterized as “vulnerable” due to the increase of change from natural woods to urban, tourism and recreation spaces. Several species of endemic animals and plants are under risk of extinction (Densmore, 1986; Collar et al., 1992; UN, Statistical Office, 1997; Stattersfield et al. 1998; http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura/; http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org).

 

The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) are good examples of areas in the Dutch Caribbean, in which dry ecosystems are undergoing a drastic reduction of natural areas due to land conversion, mainly driven by development projects. Most of the natural landscapes that still remain in these islands are not protected inside the existent National Parks or similar figures. These areas contain a substantial proportion of the fauna and flora represented in the islands; but they do not guarantee the adequate protection of highly mobile species of vertebrates, such as birds and bats. In addition, even within the national parks of the ABCs habitats are severely degraded due to the uncontrolled presence of invasive exotic species of herbivores and predators like goats and cats.

 

Protecting the bat fauna of these islands is essential to preserve their biodiversity. Bat-plant mutualistic interactions (associations from which bat and plants both benefit) are vital for sustaining life in the arid and semiarid ecosystems in the Caribbean region (Fleming and Racey 2010). Two nectar-feeding bats, Miller's Long-tongued Bat (Glossophaga longirostris) and the Curaçaoan Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris curasoae), are the main pollinators and/or seed dispersal agents of several species of columnar cacti (Cereus repandus, Pilosocereus lanuginosus, Stenocereus griseus) and agaves (Agave cocuy) in the region (Nassar et al., 1997; Petit, 1995, 1997; Soriano et al., 1991). Columnar cacti not only support nectar-feeding bats in these ecosystems, but they also provide food and water to a broad range of vertebrates and invertebrates, including birds, rodents, lizards, butterflies, bees, wasps, and hawkmoths, among others. Their role in supporting these animal communities is of critical importance during the long droughts that occur in this region, during which alternative sources of food and natural water become rapidly exhausted.

 

Therefore, protecting the bat-cactus and bat-agave interactions translates into the protection of all the trophic webs linked directly and indirectly with these mutualisms. The role of these interactions becomes critical in small islands like the ABC islands, where there are not many plant species left to maintain animal communities (Petit and Pors, 1996) and bat populations are declining (Petit et al., 2006). Besides this, insect-feeding bats like the Ghost Bat (Mormoops megalophylla), the Davi's naked-backed Bat (Pteronotus davyi), and the Funnel-eared Bat (Natalus tumidirostris), contribute to the control of (unwanted) insect populations on the islands. Many of these insects can cause problems to humans, attacking locally important crops (maize, sorghum, etc) and transmitting diseases such as malaria and dengue. Based on these important ecosystem services provided by bats in the islands, they should be at the top of the list of the national plans addressing the conservation of natural habitats.

 

Many of the bat species that live in the ABC islands rely on caves as diurnal and maternity roosts. Cave dwelling species tend to be gregarious, congregating during the day in colonies that can reach several thousands in number of individuals.  One cave can be used simultaneously by different species occupying different parts of the cave, but some species can also form mixed colonies In most cases, the caves used by these bats in the ABC islands are not included in the existing system of protected area. This represents a considerable hazard for the bat colonies present in them, because large colonies of bats can easily attract the attention of people that disturb and sometimes kill them. This type of disturbance is particularly harmful during those months of the year) when bats are giving birth and nursing their offspring.

    

Successful bat conservation in the ABC islands can only be achieved through the integration of multiple disciplines, institutions and people, organized by means of an strategic plan, which is presented in this document. 

 

PCMABC VISION

THAT THE BATS OF THE ABC ISLANDS AND THE ECOLOGICAL

SERVICES THAT THEY PROVIDE ARE RECOGNIZED,

RESPECTED AND PROTECTED BY THE ISLANDS INHABITANTS

 

 

PCMABC MISSION

TO ENSURE THE PERPETUITY OF VIABLE BAT POPULATIONS

ON THE ABC ISLANDS AND TO EDUCATE THE PEOPLE

ABOUT THEIR ECOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE

 

 

 The PPRABC, in accordance with the RELCOM Strategy, has identified four main threats  that include the majority of factors affecting the bat population in our islands:

 

THREAT 1: HABITAT LOSS

 

Habitat loss is the process of destruction, fragmentation and degradation of natural ecosystems in which organisms are incapable of maintaining viable populations that results in a reduction on biodiversity and ecological processes in which they are involved.

 

This habitat loss is a product of several human actions that affect bats, amongst these are the introduction of exotic invasive species, growth of agriculture and livestock production, mining, illegal crops, urban development and megaprojects of solar and wind energy, amongst others. On the ABC islands, habitat destruction, fragmentation and degradation translate into the loss of forests, erosion, loss of soil, loss of key elements of the landscape and of aquatic habitats which several bat species depend on. The increase of these activities could result in some species being unable to adapt and consequently move from the area or die (local extinctions).

In addition, activities that dispose chemical products in the environment could produce pollution that affects water and trophic resources of which bats depend on and all the other flora and fauna species that inhabit the islands.

 

It is known that there is a change of bat species when the environment is modified and that the species assembly is affected. This change could produce a decrease of bat populations and global or local extinctions. These two effects (change and extinctions) have as an important consequence the rupture and imbalance of trophic chains as well as the decrease or loss of environmental services (pollination, seed dispersal and insects pests control). Many of these effects will be increased when bat species of primary importance are affected. These  species include endemic, threatened and migratory species.

 

 

GOALS, OBJECTIVES AND INDICATORS TO PRESERVE BATS FACING HABITAT LOSS AND DESTRUCTION

 

GOAL 1: TO PREVENT AND REDUCE THE LOSS OF NATIVE HABITAT CAUSED BY HUMAN ACTIVITIES WITH AN EMPHASIS IN BAT HABITATS.

 

OBJECTIVE 1.1:  Keep constant supervision to ensure that local authorities enforce the environmental laws and actions are taken according to environmental legislation when human activities potentially could cause an effect on the bats (e.g. Construction permits and land use designation).

INDICATOR

-          Number of activities in which bats have been considered in human activities that have an effect on their habitat. 

 

OBJECTIVE 1.2:  To ensure that bat populations are included on methodologies, guidelines and protocols of Environmental Impact Assessments carried out on the ABC islands.

INDICATOR

-          Number of studies of environmental impact in which bats have been considered vs number of studies in which they have not been considered or that have been carried out inadequately.

 

GOAL 2: TO IMPLEMENT A SYSTEM OF PROTECTED AREAS AND SITES OF IMPORTANCE FOR BAT POPULATIONS ON THE ABC ISLANDS.

 

OBJECTIVE 2.1: To identify areas of importance for bat conservation in each of the three islands.

INDICATOR

-          Number of sites and areas identified on each island.

OBJECTIVE 2.2:  To obtain international recognition through RELCOM in the form of AICOMs and SICMOs for the areas and sites of importance for bats population of the ABC islands. Minimum 1 AICOM and 1 SICOM for each island.

INDICATOR

-          Number of AICOM and SICOM designated on each island.

OBJECTIVE 2.3:  To get legal protection for the AICOM and SICOM sites if they are located outside natural protected areas.

INDICATOR:

-          Number of AICOM and SICOM with any kind of legal protection vs. number of AICOMS and SICOMS without any legal protection.

 

GOAL 3: TO INFORM AND EDUCATE ABOUT THE ECOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE OF BATS AND THE BENEFITS THEY PROVIDE TO HUMAN BEINGS IN ORDER TO PREVENT THE DESTRUCTION OF ITS HABITAT.

 

OBJECTIVE 3.1: To prepare a group of presentations in Papiamento, Dutch, English and Spanish for kids of different school ages and adults. These presentations should clearly show the ecological importance of bats and the consequences of their habitat destruction. The presentations should be regularly offered in schools and public places. 

INDICATOR

-          Number of presentations and number of assistants to each one.

OBJECTIVE 3.2: To create a web page, a Facebook page, a PCMABC blog and keep them actualized.

INDICATOR

-          Number of visits to the web page, Facebook likes and blog posts.

OBJECTIVE 3.3: To communicate bats’ importance through press, TV and radio shows.

INDICATOR

-          Number of press articles and shows on radio and local and international TV shows.

 

THREAT 2: PERTURBATION AND/OR DESTRUCTION OF DIURNAL REFUGES

Refuge definition: A space that provide bats favorable conditions to carry on specific biological functions (hibernation, reproduction, rest, feed, etc. )

 

Refuges can be divided in two big groups:

1.                 Natural refuges: Caves, cracks, tree holes, tree roots, foliage, termite nests, etc.

2.                 Artificial refuges: ceilings, bridges, mines, dykes, drains and tunnels, abandoned structures, archaeological sites, etc.

Threats that affect refuges can be divided as follow:

 

Direct

Destruction or modification of the refuge with the specific goal of eliminate the bats living in it (e,g. wood and/or tire burning inside caves, construction  modifications, etc.).


 

Indirect.

- Modification or disappearance of the refuge with different goals  than eliminating bats (human activities that affect refuges).

- Modification and/or destruction due to activities to collect resources (guano, timber),

  tourism, military practices.

- Cave vandalism.

- Deforestation in the area around the caves.

- Urbanization (threat for certain species).

- Extreme climatic conditions (draughts, hurricanes, etc.).

 

Context: The majority of the problems related with refuges are associated with a negative image of the bats in the community close to the caves. Many times this image is a consequence of the issue of the “vampires”.

 

Priority Refuge Definition: it is a refuge that homes species that present some of the following characteristics: hibernate, species under risk, endemic, migratory, ecosystem services, high species diversity or used for reproduction.

 

 

GOALS, OBJECTIVES AND INDICATORS FOR CONSERVING BATS FACED TO REFUGE DESTRUCTION AND PERTURBATION

 

 

GOAL 1: IDENTIFICATION AND CONSERVATION OF PRIORITY REFUGES

 

OBJECTIVE 1.1: To carry out sampling with mist nets and harp traps in all the known refuges of ABC islands for 2 years and identify those that qualify as a priority refuge and thus deserve to be recognized and protected.

INDICATOR

-          Number of refuges sampled vs. number of known refuges.

GOAL 2: TO PROVIDE PHYSICAL PROTECTION (IN THE FORM OF IRON BARS TO PRIORITY REFUGES.

 

OBJECTIVE 2.1: Obtain the permits needed to install protection mechanisms in the 100% of the refuges that deserve it on the three islands in a 5 year term.

INDICATOR

-          Number of permits obtained.

OBJECTIVE 2.2: To develop and install a protection mechanism for the refuge in 100% of the refuges that deserve it on the three islands in a 5 year term.

INDICATOR

-          Number of installed mechanisms.

GOAL 3: TO PROVIDE LEGAL PROTECTION TO PRIORITY REFUGES.

 

OBJECTIVE 3.1: Create a management plan for identified priority refuges on each island. Management plans have to consider bat populations protection as well as the possibility of recreational, educative and commercial activities in a controlled way.

INDICATOR

-          Number of management plans created and implemented.

OBJECTIVE 3.2: To obtain some form of legal protection for all the priority refuges of the three islands outside the natural protected areas.

INDICATOR

-          Number of refuges under legal protection outside natural protected areas present in 2014.

 

THREAT 3: BAT-HUMAN CONFLICTS AND EMERGENT DISEASES

 

When the quality of human life is affected by the presence of bats, conflicts appear between them. The inadequate resolution of these conflicts implies a threat for bat populations because commonly the answer is an indiscriminate extermination. This results in the loss of bat populations which carryout vital functions for the perpetuation of the ecosystems.

 

The main causes of conflict are:

 

Zoonosis (emergent and re-emergent diseases). Defined as a disease that can be transmitted from vertebrates, like bats, to humans.

 

Animal safety and hygiene. Defined as the practices that ensure that domestic animals are maintained in optimal shape for their management and consumption. When trying to control bat populations which threaten domestic animals health, because of misinformation about the natural history of bats, these controls are wrongly directed and result in the elimination of other species not related to the conflict.

 

Unlike South America, within the ABC islands, there has not been any record of the three vampire bat species, as well as any case of rabies in domestic or wild animals, or any other case of bat transmitted disease. This means that the topic of emergent diseases is not a priority in this region. Thus, the PCMABC does not present on this strategic plan, goals, objectives and indicators on this subject and the activities that the PCMABC will carry out will be limited to make public the official communications generated by RECOLM regarding this topic.


 

THREAT 4: EMERGENT THREATS

 

Developments to produce wind energy, exotic invasive species and, a recent problem, the White Nose Syndrome, constitute examples of emerging threats for bats that in the following years could become the cause of important decreases in their populations.

 

The need of new green energy sources is causing that now more than ever, in many countries new projects of wind energy are being developed. Despite being an economic and social need, wind parks have caused significant rates of mortality in birds and bats. The ABC islands should be prepared to mitigate these negative effects on our bat populations and their habitats by finding ways to work in close cooperation with the companies developing the projects.

 

The introduction of exotic invasive species is a threat that directly affects several bats on the islands. Predators such as cats, herbivore-introduced mammals and the increase in the use of non-native species of plants that affect habitat quality are already damaging bat populations. Due to globalization, the negative effects are larger and actions to reduce these effects have to be taken.

 

GOALS, OBJECTIVES AND INDICATORS TO CONSERVE BATS FACING WIND ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS

 

GOAL 1: TO MAKE SURE THAT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STUDIES TAKE IN CONSIDERATION THE BAT POPULATIONS FROM THE ISLANDS AND THAT THE METHODOLOGY TO BE USED DURING THE STUDY IS CARRIED OUT IN AN SATISFACTORY MANNER .

 

OBJECTIVE 1.1: To communicate with any projects responsible for wind energy that are planned on the ABC islands to discuss environmental impact studies related to bats and offer cooperation to carry out the studies.

INDICATOR

-          Number of new projects of wind energy in which PCMABC has participated with positive results vs. number of projects in which there was no participation.

 

OBJECTIVE 1.2: To provide public information about the threats of wind energy through the use of different communication mechanisms (web page, Facebook, press, radio, etc.) available to PCMABC.

INDICATOR

-          Amount of updated information available on the media.


 

GOALS, OBJECTIVES AND INDICATORS TO CONSERVE BATS FACING INVASIVE EXOTIC SPECIES

 

 

GOAL 1: TO REDUCE THE NEGATIVE EFFECT OF INVASIVE SPECIES ON THE BATS FROM THE ABC ISLANDS.  

 

OBJECTIVE 1.1: To promote and actively participate on the eradication projects and control of exotic species that emerges in any of the three islands.

INDICATOR:

-          Number of removal and control projects in which PCMABC actively participates.

 

OBJECTIVE 2.1: To promote and participate actively in reforestation projects with native species in any of the three islands

INDICATOR:

 

-          Number of reforestation projects in which PPRABC is actively participating.