Many of us desert dwellers are suckers for a good agave bloom - that iconic silhouette towering over vast expanses of grassland, or providing the foreground for epic mountain scenery. If you’ve been following our work, you likely already know that our love for agaves is shared with several other species. Migratory bat species are particularly drawn to agave nectar, dependent on it as an energy source to fuel their journeys from southern wintering grounds to summer breeding sites. Threats to agave populations are many, from hungry ungulates seeking to chow down those sticky sweet flower stalks before they can bloom, to rampant development, to fire. Decreased agave populations are a bummer for bats, but also have an impact on local economies in places like Sonora, Mexico, where producers of agave spirits like Bacanora rely on the plant to support their livelihoods.
In recent years, our native plants team has embarked on a collaboration with several partners to mitigate threats to agave populations through strategic grow-outs and planting. In March, BRN had the opportunity to participate in an Agave for Bats Summit hosted by Cuenca Los Ojos (CLO) and organized by Bat Conservation International (BCI). This summit brought together staff and researchers from CLO, BCI, BRN, Colectivo Sonora Silvestre (CSS), and the University of Arizona (UA). During the summit, participants toured much of CLO's beautiful and inspiring lands, talked about past and future projects, and brainstormed ways to collaborate on both CLO lands and throughout the northwestern region of Mexico. Although this summit was focused on nectar-feeding bats and native agave species, it also touched on working with other critical wildlife and plant species.
BRN staff in attendance included Executive Director Rodrigo Sierra Corona, Program Director Melissa Fratello, Native Plant Program Director Francesca Claverie, Native Plant Program Manager Perin McNelis, and BRN board member Valeria Cañedo also representing CSS. Summit attendees traveled from Arizona and various parts of Sonora outside CLO and met at Rancho San Bernardino outside Agua Prieta, Sonora. That afternoon they toured rock structures, the border wall, and an agave propagation facility and were then shuttled to Rancho Los Ojos.
The following day participants woke up early for a presentation on wildlife surveys and conservation research conducted by Ganesh Marin from the University of Arizona, who has extensive knowledge about the incredible wildlife species that roam the CLO ranches, including jaguars! Afterward, everyone spent the day visiting the other beautiful and inspiring CLO ranches, including Rancho Nuevo, El Valle, Cajón, and Los Pinitos. Enjoying the early spring blooms, participants visited beaver dams and pine forests in the expansive 250 square miles of the epic Cuenca Los Ojos.
It was evident by our conversation that this work is just the beginning, and we’ll be engaging in this effort for years to come. Before the group departed, next steps were established for bat conservation that includes organizing a meeting in the fall focusing on agave for bats restoration that can result in a more detailed plan for the region for the next five to ten years outlining bat nectar needs and capacity for native agave propagation in northwestern Mexico. We’ll be re-convening to determine where we can strategically plant agaves, how we can protect plants from hungry deer and cattle, and how we can most effectively engage communities in these efforts going forward.
To learn more about our agaves for bats initiatives, visit our website.