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Bats could be the perfect pairing for vineyard insect control

19 May 2023
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Are bats the answer to providing natural pest control in the vineyard? That’s the question a University of New England research project wants to determine.

Led by Dr Zenon Czenze – who was recently announced the winner of the Wine Australia-supported award in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Science and Innovation Awards – the project is believed to be the first to investigate the diet and habitat of insectivorous bats in Australian vineyards. 

The project aims to determine if the pest control services provided by bats can be boosted by increasing roosts for them, in and around vineyards.

“Insectivorous bats can consume up to 100 per cent of their bodyweight in insects each night, so it’s important that we understand what insects they find attractive in the vineyard, and the extent to which they are consuming key pests such as light brown apple moths” Dr Czenze said.

The research team, including Dr Heidi Kolkert and honours students Kate Rankin and Kat Stewart, has established partnerships with four vineyards across New South Wales that are serving as study sites to capture bats, collect faecal samples, and use DNA analysis to determine what the bats are eating. 

Over the past six months, Kate and Kat have already conducted field work at two vineyards in the Tablelands, Petersons Armidale Winery and Guesthouse and Toppers Mountain Wines. 

They have collected faecal samples from bats caught on remnant forest patches, that will soon be sent to the Australian Genomics Research Facility for DNA analysis. 

“This will allow us to determine the insects that make up the bats' diet,” said Dr Czenze. 

They also collected nocturnal insects to compare to the bats’ diet and determine if the bats are eating what’s available or if they are targeting certain species.

The team are also recording nightly acoustic echolocation calls from the vineyard and surrounding forest to determine what species of bats are present, how they are using the vineyard during the growing season, and how that changes as grapes develop. 

“Both Dr Kolkert and I are bat biologists with more than 10 years of research experience. Despite our love for wine, we never expected that bats and wine would make such a perfect pairing!” Dr Czenze said.

Dr Czenze said he has found widespread support from growers for reducing pesticide use on their vineyards and adopting more sustainable farming practices.

“Our project aims to support these efforts by partnering with growers to create habitats for natural pest control and increase biodiversity on vineyards.” 

This study also supports the wider regional efforts to increase functional biodiversity in and around vineyards occurring in the national EcoVineyards program.

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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.