Intensive banana trees, the fast food that hurts bats
The bats that feed on the nectar of intensively cultivated banana trees in Costa Rican plantations show a microbiota intestinal less diverse than those that are nourished by those that grow naturally in forests or in organic crops.
Chiropterans that forage for food in organic farming have diverse and individualized gut microbiota
This is revealed by a new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, which shows the relationship between the alteration of habitats, sustainable agriculture and the intestinal microbiota of wild fauna.
“Both organic banana plantations and traditional monoculture are food sources for some species of bats. However, in chiropterans that feed on the nectar of intensive cultures, it is observed that the diversity of their intestinal microbiota is lower. This could be a sign of intestinal dysbiosis, that is, an imbalance of its microbial symbionts, which can be detrimental to your health ”, he explains. Priscilla Alpízar, study author and doctoral student at the Institute for Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation Genomics, University of Ulm (Germany).
“On the other hand, bats that forage for food in organic plantations present diverse and individualized gut microbiota, more similar to those of their counterparts that feed in the forest”, adds the researcher.
Fast food reduces diversity bacterial
The disbiosis intestinal it is a persistent imbalance of the microbial community in the gut and is related to an increased susceptibility to disease. Human studies have shown that a fast food diet can produce this maladjustment, by reducing the diversity of bacteria found in our intestines. However, this is the first time that a similar effect has been observed in wildlife.
“We wanted to investigate the impact of intensive crops on local fauna and find out if sustainable agriculture has the same effects,” says the expert.
Chiropterans that found their food in the plantations were larger and heavier than their counterparts in the forest
The scientists examined fecal samples from bats that feed on both types of plantations, as well as those that feed in the wild, to find out what bacterial groups they were present, absent, more common, or linked to a specific habitat. They also measured other parameters related to the physical form of these animals, such as their size and weight.
“The animals that found their food in conventional and organic crops were larger and heavier than their counterparts in the forest, suggesting that the plantations provide a stable food source,” says Alpízar.
The role of microbes intestinal
“We found an interesting relationship between the composition of the microbiome intestinal and the state of bats. Some gut bacteria were associated only with those with the highest residual body mass and those from natural forests, suggesting that these microbes could play a role in fat accumulation”, Explains the author.
Our study shows that more sustainable agricultural practices can have less impact on wildlife
“Since plantation-nourishing bats don’t need to fly long distances to search for food, it makes sense that they don’t need help from bacteria to store it. However, for those looking for food in the forest, the fat reserve is important because the food is seasonal and is widely distributed in patches ”, continues the scientist.
According to the researchers, more studies are needed to find out if the pesticides, or the provision of an abundant but unique food source, cause changes in the bat’s gut microbiota and, furthermore, if there are long-term consequences for its health.
“Our study shows that more sustainable agricultural practices can have less impact on wildlife. These findings can lead efforts to work together with producers and consumers towards a more sustainable and respectful agriculture with these animals ”, concludes Alpízar.
Alpízar et al. “Agricultural Fast Food: Bats Feeding in Banana Monocultures Are Heavier but Have Less Diverse Gut Microbiota”. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 2021
Rights: Creative Commons.