BACKGROUND: Out of the entire diversity of mammals on the planet a quarter of them are bat species. There are almost 30 species of bats in Arizona and they mostly eat insects except for two nectar feeders, Choeronycteris mexicana (Mexican long-tongued bat) and Leptonycteris yerbabuenae, (lesser long nosed bat). The Sky Islands of the Madrean Archipelago, here 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. Agave is an important bat food source in this grassland region that faces continued threats such as climate change, land development, and wild harvest of agaves for Bacanora production.
Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN) is working on many aspects of the agave threats through partnerships with multiple organizations and volunteers. BRN’s first endeavor is with the National Phenology Network and their Flowers for Bats campaign. This campaign tackles the climate change stressor to agaves by recruiting volunteers to track the flowering cycle of the native agaves in our region. Here in Santa Cruz County the important agave species for bat nectar are Agave parryi and Agave palmeri.
Flowers for Bats Campaign- National Phenology Network
CLIMATE CHANGE AND BATS: 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 and only find agaves that have already flowered and are already starting to seed. BRN supports this effort by organizing volunteers that are responsible for monitoring certain areas of southern Arizona and reporting their phenological findings in the Nature’s Notebook app.
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 regional mescal produced from agaves in Sonora), which is sold within Sonora as well as all over the United States and is increased by U.S. demand for this product.
Agave pups in the BRN Native Plant Nursery
AGAVE SEED COLLECTION AND PROPAGATION: Our native plant program is collecting seed and propagating thousands of agaves for restoration. The nursery is ideal for producing the agaves for this project due to our proven track record of previous agave production, and ability to track and curate plant material accessions and propagation records. Our current contract with BCI is producing 2,000 Agave palmeri’s for restoration in southern Arizona in partnership with various private and public land managers.
The program is also organizing outreach efforts in collaboration with BCI in Sonora and northern Mexico. These efforts focus on educational outreach materials and presentations at conferences to encourage agave propagation by seed, and through a collaboration with Colectivo Sonora Silvestre, a group of students and alumni from the University of Sonora in Hermosillo to organize workshops, start growing Agave angustifolia from seed, and restore agaves in the sierra and urban areas of central Sonora.
We 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.