Sympatric Bat Species Prey Opportunistically on a Major Moth Pest of Pecans


Elizabeth C. Braun de Torrez, Veronica A. Brown, Gary F. McCracken, Thomas H. Kunz


Native predators provide undervalued pest suppression services to agriculture. Studies of pest consumption by insectivorous bats tend to focus upon single species in large, centralized colonies, while bats dispersed in small groups within the agricultural matrix often go unnoticed. Pecan trees, Carya illinoinensis, and the destructive pecan nut casebearer (PNC) moth, Acrobasis nuxvorella, comprise a tightly linked host–parasite system in a widespread agroecosystem native to North America. Here we use a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assay of fecal DNA to document predation on PNC moths by an assemblage of sympatric bat species across episodic peaks in PNC abundance. Although five species of bats consume PNC moths, greater predation by a solitary tree-roosting bat (eastern red bat, Lasiurus borealis) than other species is suggested by a higher frequency of PNC occurrence and quantity of PNC gene copies in fecal samples. Consumption of PNC by bats during all documented peaks in moth activity suggests that predation pressure occurs throughout the PNC season. Our results highlight the need to consider multi-species assemblages and different foraging strategies when assessing pest suppression services, particularly in agroforestry or tree crops. Assessing the diet of only common or easily captured species limits our ability to accurately document pest consumption by bats.

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Braun de Torrez EC, Brown VA, McCracken GF, Kunz TH. 2019. Sympatric bat species prey opportunistically on a major moth pest of pecans. Sustainability 11:6365.