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Accepted Paper:

Fruits of bats’ labour: bat-human relationships in changing plantation economies in India  
Kadambari Deshpande (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, and Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal)

Paper short abstract:

Fruit bats and people regularly interact in fruit plantations. Along India’s Western Ghats, a shift towards commercial, low-management fruit crops, corresponding with labour shortage in a changing economy, may have significant implications for bat-human relationships and conservation in the future.

Paper long abstract:

Interactions of fruit bats and people in fruit plantations have consequences for economics of plantation management, and bat conservation. Along India’s Western Ghats, a shift is seen towards low-maintenance plantations of cashew and areca nut, corresponding with growing labour shortage, in a rapidly changing economy. Both these crops, now expanding in area, provide stable yields, and require relatively lower management or labour inputs than other commercial crops. In my study, I assessed the implications of these changes for fruit bats and perceptions of plantation-associated people about bats. From detailed interviews with cashew and areca-associated respondents (n=91) and my field observations, I found that bats benefitted farmers by feeding on fruit-pulp (not commercially useful) and aggregating nuts under feeding trees or roosts. This helped in easy collection of “ready” nuts, as bats fed on the ripest fruits. In cashew plantations, bats contributed to almost 50% of nut collections, thus substituting for labour costs. Similarly for areca, bat visitations indicated fruit ripening and had implications for management, as the high costs incurred on skilled labour to harvest nuts from tall trees could be reduced. People also organized auctions of bat-aggregated nuts in some areas, and obtained high profits. While bats directly affect nut yields, disease risks from bats may also increase as these plantations may become crucial arenas of bat-human contact. The observed shifts in plantation economies may have significant implications for benefits and risks from bats. Understanding these tradeoffs will be critical for the future of bat-human relationships and conservation outcomes.

Panel P024
  Session 1 Tuesday 26 October, 2021, -