There are almost 30 species of bats in Arizona and all of them eat insects except for two nectar feeders, Choeronycteris mexicana (Mexican longtongued bat) and Leptonycteris yerbabuenae, (lesser long nosed bat). Nectar feeding bats are little nighttime plant
pollinators that follow the blooming cycles of mostly succulent blooms like agave and cacti from Mexico in the winter, to the very southern tips of the U.S. in the summer.
The Sky Islands in southern Arizona are considered important areas in need of conservation to support pollinator populations, specifically the lesser long nosed bat. This bat was recently taken off the Endangered Species list even though its nectar source is stressed.
Here in Santa Cruz County the important agave species for bat nectar are Agave parryi and Agave palmeri. Agave faces threats such as climate change, land development, and wild harvest of agaves for bacanora production, the regional mescal produced from agaves in Sonora, which is sold within Sonora as well as all over the United States.
Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN) is working on many aspects of these threats to agave through partnerships with multiple organizations and volunteers. BRN is working with the National Phenology Network and their “Flowers for Bats” campaign. This campaign recruits volunteers to track the flowering cycle of the native agaves in our region. As the global temperatures change so do plants, and many adapt by flowering earlier. Scientists are worried that bat migration schedules won’t be able to keep up
with the change, meaning thousands of migrating bats will be going hungry as they hit the grasslands only to find agaves that have already flowered and are already starting to seed.
BRN’s biggest agave collaboration is with Bat Conservation International (BCI) and the #agavesforbats campaign which is supporting on-the-ground restoration of regionally sourced agaves from seeds and pups in the southwest U.S. and northwestern Mexico. These restoration efforts are meant to balance out the destruction of agaves for industrial and residential land use in the U.S. and the wild harvest of agaves for bacanora.
The BRN’s Native Plant Materials Program (NPM) is collecting seed and propagating thousands of agaves for restoration. The NPM is staffed by Allegra Mount, Francesca Claverie, Perin McNelis, Travis Gerckens, Aishah Lurry, and Andrea Fleder, all residents of Patagonia.
The NPM is also organizing outreach efforts in collaboration with BCI in Sonora, Mexico by partnering with Colectivo Sonora Silvestre, a group of students and alumni from the University of Sonora in Hermosillo, to organize two workshops this fall and winter. One workshop will be aimed at communicating the threats and issues of agave and bat restoration in the U.S. and Sonora and the other will start a dialogue with bacanora producers and agave growers in Sonora to promote agave and bat conservation.
Through Borderlands Restoration Network’s partnerships and collaboration there is hope to make a difference in the long-term availability of agaves on the landscape to support the bats as well as all their other important ecological functions.
If you wish to support these efforts you can donate money to Bat Conservation International’s Agaves For Bats campaign and to Borderlands Restoration Network, volunteer your time planting agaves and helping at our NPM volunteer days, or plant native agaves in your yard and keep your hummingbird feeders full during bat migration. To learn more about any aspects of this work you can email email@example.com.