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Bats and Cecropias
Bats bring rain forest back

In French Guiana a new discovery has led to a better understanding of how rain forests denuded by logging rebound. The forests return with the help of tough little fruits from Cecropia trees and some beneficial bats. National Geographic Society grantee Scott Mori and his colleague Tatyana Lobova, both of the New York Botanical Garden, count the discovery as one of the nearly 4,000 bat-plant interactions they've recorded so far. 

Bats feed on the Cecropia's fingerlike extensions. Each extension contains thousands of tiny fruits surrounded by fleshy floral parts; every fruit encloses a minuscule seed. Worldwide, bats aid the spread of plants by simply eating their fruit and defecating the seeds as they fly. In this case the Cecropia's unusual fruit makes bats especially useful in reforesting. "It turns out that the bats digest only the floral parts and defecate the fruit intact," says Lobova. "The Cecropia's fruit is protected by a tough coat that allows fruit and seed to survive in the soil for as long as nine years after the bats drop it."

That's why Cecropia seeds can survive logging. They may lie dormant in the shade until after an area is cleared. When the sun floods down, a thicket of Cecropias soon rises. Its shade allows other tree species to grow.  "Remove bats from the process and you'd really slow down forest regeneration," says Mori.

—John L. Eliot

Web Links

Center for  Digital Documentation of Neotropical Plant Diversity
Read more about Scott Mori's project on bats and plants in French Guiana and other studies on plants in Central and South America.

New York Botanical Garden
This world-famous public garden is involved in many international plant research programs.

Bat Conservation International
Discover the world of bats and their importance to preserving forest habitats around the world.

Free World Map

Nowak, Ronald M. Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.


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