By Katherine Ingram
Spring is in the air in California’s Central Valley. Birds are bathing in puddles that dot the landscape, and bats are swooping in and out of streetlights at dusk. Both groups of wildlife are feasting on bugs emerging after this winter’s epic rains.
The sight is a pleasant reminder of the abundance of wildlife that lives alongside us, performing tasks that inadvertently aid humans, such as natural pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal.
Survey: What farmers think about wildlife
Although the average person is lucky to catch a glimpse of a bat, a hawk, or a flycatcher every now and then, farmers and other land workers witness and interact with songbirds, bats, and raptors on a daily basis. So it’s no wonder that farmers have strong opinions about the costs and benefits of such wildlife on farmland.
UC Davis-affiliated researchers attempted to assess just what farmers think about the effects of wildlife on their farms. My co-authors Sara Kross, Meredith Niles, Rachael Long and I discovered that, by and large, farmers appreciate wildlife and want more of it.
Results from our recent paper in the journal Conservation Letters show that most farmers viewed bats, songbirds, and raptors as beneficial providers of pest control. Not surprisingly, fruit farmers viewed perching birds more negatively than did farmers growing other crops, likely because some birds are known to damage fruit crops.
Opinions associated with action
Another notable finding was that a farmer’s perception of each wildlife group was related to whether they would take action to either attract or deter those wildlife. In other words, farmer opinions were associated with action.
This finding suggests that education and outreach efforts can result in farmers encouraging wildlife on farms. Such efforts are important because agricultural lands provide a crucial, but often overlooked opportunity for wildlife conservation efforts. In the United States alone, crops are grown on over 326 million acres of private land — roughly 14 percent of the country’s total acreage.
This research is an example of how conservation policy may be better implemented through successful outreach. It is essential to continue to support agencies that work with farmers to ensure they are familiar with the benefits of wildlife, as well as strategies for coping with their potential costs. Our paper is one of the first to document these relationships, and it also highlights the importance of additional research to document the benefits and challenges of wildlife on farms for enhancing farm sustainability.
Healthy bats get tired, too
By the way, spring also marks the annual migration of bats and birds. If you find a bat on or near the ground, it isn’t necessarily sick. It is likely just resting from flying hundreds of miles. Please leave it alone if it’s not bothering anyone. A farmer somewhere may be waiting for it to come home to help protect the crops from insect pests.
Katherine Ingram is studying for her doctorate in ecology at UC Davis.