The importance of bats for pollination

The agaves have evolved two types of reproduction: sexual and asexual. They can sexually reproduce by seeds, and asexually propagate by aerial bulbils and ground-level basal shoots and rhizomes that are genetically identical to the original plant. Both processes may give rise to new individuals, however, it is only through sexual reproduction that the plants are able to exchange genes and increase their diversity to fight detrimental conditions. The fertilization process is achieved via pollination and the main organisms responsible for this are bats!

A lesser long-nosed   bat pollinating an agave flower Photo by Marco Tschapka

A lesser long-nosed bat pollinating an agave flower Photo by Marco Tschapka

Bats ensure the sexual reproduction of the agaves and depend on the nectar for food along their migration. The disruption of this balance has already payed its effects. As agave production has moved to an industrial scale, diseases and pests, particularly by fungi and bacteria have hit the crops causing TMA (tristeza y muerte de agave, "wilting and death of agave"). If bats were allowed to pollinate a small percentage of flowers, this would ensure that key areas for their migration acted as stepping stones while promoting gene flow within the agaves. Having a natural library of genes would allow these plants to defend themselves against diseases and pests.

Efforts to achieve this might be underway with more people interested in consuming a sustainable and 'bat friendly' tequila and mezcal. Together with the Tequila Interchange Project, we are pushing for new reforms that benefit the bats, the plants and the producers. A win - win - win situation!

These drinks are part of our identity that are worth preserving. However, this cannot be done without the conservation of the agaves' main pollinators: the bats! So, next time you have a shot (or better sip it slowly and enjoy!) thank the bats and think what you can do to promote their conservation. And remember: "Para todo mal, Mezcal, y para todo bien, también". "For all evil drink mezcal. And for all good, drink it too".