In Conversation with Natalie Weber: Celebrating Bat Appreciation Day

Posted 17th April 2024



Bat Appreciation Day was started by Bat Conversation International and is observed annually on April 17th. It serves as a reminder of the vital role bats play in our ecosystems. These often misunderstood animals are not only fascinating but also crucial for maintaining ecological balance. To delve deeper into the world of bats, Pakhi Das, consulting associate at the International Biodiversity Consultants Ltd, interviewed Natalie Weber, a renowned expert in bat conservation and research. In this interview, Natalie shares insights into the ecological significance of bats, highlights memorable experiences from her research, and discusses innovative methods for studying bats and addressing conservation challenges. From dispelling negative stereotypes to exploring the economic benefits of bats, read along to learn more about importance of understanding and appreciating these nocturnal marvels.


Natalie shares her insights into the ecological significance of bats, highlights memorable experiences from her research, and discusses innovative methods for studying bats and addressing conservation challenges. From dispelling negative stereotypes to exploring the economic benefits of bats, this interview sheds light on the importance of understanding and appreciating these nocturnal mammals.


Can you share some insights into the ecological significance of bats and their role in maintaining healthy ecosystems?

Bats are renowned for their significant role in controlling insect populations, including mosquitoes and crop pests, which is vital for agriculture, from corn to macadamia crops. Additionally, they contribute to pollination and seed dispersal for many tropical plant species[1]. With over 1,450 species, each plays an important role. But unfortunately, species-specific information is most often lacking. It would be much easier to answer this question if more information about their crucial roles for ecological services was known, and this is one of the challenges bat conservationists face. And interestingly bats are important to virtually every ecosystem except Antarctica.

What inspired you to focus your work on bats, and what aspects of their ecology fascinate you the most?

During university studies in biology, a fascination with the diversity of the tropics led me to want to work there. Coincidentally, one my professors at the time was working with bats in the tropics and gave me the opportunity to collaborate with him. And that was probably when I was hooked. 20 years later, I am involved in everything bats and I am still fascinated with these intelligent creatures. I probably can’t point at one fascinating aspect about bats – but I think a very interesting aspect of bats is their lifespan. Contradicting the usual mammalian trends, bats, despite their small size, can have surprisingly long lifespans, especially in captivity where they have been found to live for decades. In fact even in the wild, there have been two instances where some marked bat individuals were found to have lived for more than 40 years!

Describe one memorable experience from your research that highlights the remarkable capabilities of bats?

There are so many species of bats and there are so many moments in the 20+ years of me being involved with their research and conservation, I can’t think of one experience as such. However, one thing that comes to mind is observing their outstanding behavioural adaptations in some bat species. While studying straw-coloured fruit bats in sub-Saharan Africa[2], we observed that the tree roosts[3] these bats are selecting in urban environments often offer them safe spots, free from persecution – just by the type of locality. This means, the bats understand that in the day, they are safe in a tree in the middle of a busy traffic junction, or in hospital and government building backyards almost as if they were reducing hunting pressure on themselves. This also holds true for other species of fruit bats (or flying foxes) in southeast Asia, that are comfortable to spend the day in trees in Buddhist temples, where no one can hunt them.

Bats are often associated with negative stereotypes. How do you think we can improve public perception and appreciation and highlight the importance of bats?

This in fact is one of the most pressing challenges for the conservation of bats. Raising awareness about the vital roles bats play in ecosystems and involving communities in cohabited areas are essential. This can be done via awareness campaigns, continuous engagements with local communities, through engaging school students, organising citizens science initiatives etc. Unfortunately, large mammals and charismatic species like rhinos and chimpanzees have a lot of conservation focus while small yet extremely crucial species like bats are not getting enough attention. This requires a change on policy level.  In addition, it is extremely important to address misconceptions about disease transmission. A recent example is the Covid pandemic, where there was a lot of talk about bats being the origin of the pandemic; While current evidence points to bats as the evolutionary origin of coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2 – it was not clearly communicated that these origins date back to maybe millions of years, but are not per se related to the current source of zoonotic spillover and disease transmissions. There are many such myths about bats that need to be debunked. It is important that science communicators[4] devise strategies that mitigate the harm that has already been done by developing and implementing a dedicated communication strategy etc to reverse the recent changes in such perception, setting back decades of conservation efforts.

What are some of the most pressing threats to bat populations globally, and how do these threats impact both bat species and their ecosystems?

Habitat loss, climate change, environmental toxins, unsustainable hunting or direct persecution for other reasons, and lack of awareness are major threats to bat populations. These threats not only endanger bats but also disrupt ecosystems. Conservation efforts require collaboration, data, monitoring, and effective communication strategies.

How do bats contribute to the concept of “One Health[5]“, particularly in terms of disease transmission dynamics and ecosystem health?

As we’ve been discussing, bats play a very crucial role in environmental health and biodiversity and therefore are a part of the concept of one health which links human health, environmental health and animal health. Personally however, I believe the concept of “One Health” is great in theory, but on ground implementation of the same is often only focused on human and domestic animal health, missing out on environmental aspects. There is very little happening globally that focuses on the health of wild animals. Moreover, it is important to understand that disease transmission does not only happen in one direction, but that there are enough instances of disease transmission from humans to wild animals (e.g. respiratory diseases to chimps).  

 Bats like any other animal species of course carry pathogens but compared to many other species of mammals, they don’t have strong legislations to protect them from being disturbed in many places, especially in regions where their biodiversity is highest and most threatened species occur. Virological research teams should thus increasingly use multidisciplinary approaches and enter bat habitats only being accompanied by ecologists or other species experts to collect data, to avoid negative impacts on the targeted bat populations. I strongly feel collaborative research is crucial for understanding disease dynamics.

From a research perspective, what are some innovative methods or technologies being used to study bats and better understand their behaviors and habitats?

Depending on the opening questions, several new technologies are being explored. There are for example many advances in molecular science such as environmental DNA (eDNA) for genetic analyses. We have started using AI e.g., to identify and analyse bat echolocations calls. And of course, new tracking device systems[6] are being developed to help with many questions around bat movements and ecology.

Are there any success stories or notable conservation efforts that have significantly benefited bat populations in recent years?

Sure! NGOs specifically for the protection of bats have been established, like Bat Conservation International[7], and multi-country agreements such as Eurobats[8]. There are also numerous success studies of bat populations maintained through raising public focus and suitable conservation strategies. However, globally, bats are  in decline. We still have a of work lot to do.

Given increasing urbanization and habitat loss, how can we better incorporate bat-friendly practices into urban planning and development?

Maintain potential bat day roosts, especially during building restauration processes, or establish new ones, and plan for enough ‘natural spaces’. This includes different vegetation types and tree species as well as open water bodies. All these measures help fostering biodiversity in general, resulting in healthier urban environments.

Bonus Questions:

Can you shed light on the potential economic benefits or contributions of bats to various industries, such as agriculture, tourism, or pest control?

Calculating the economic value of ecosystem services provided by bats, such as seed dispersal, is crucial. Bats contribute to reforestation and pest control, which can have significant economic implications[9].


What do you think are the best ways for collaborations between various stakeholders for interdisciplinary collaboration to address the complex challenges and threats for bat populations and their habitats?

Basically – to meet with a representative set of stakeholders at the right time, and for the right purpose, being informed by a sound knowledge base. I am currently involved in such a process for the straw-colored fruit bat, and while recently our Concerted Action for the species was adopted by the COP of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), we’re still quite at the beginning. So let’s see!



[1] Kunz, T. H. et. al., (2011) ‘Ecosystem services provided by bats’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1223(1), pp.1-38. Doi:; Weier, S. M. et. al., (2019) ‘Insect pest consumption by bats in macadamia orchards established by molecular diet analyses’, Global Ecology and Conservation, 18, pp.1-9. Doi:; van Toor, M. L. et. al., (2019) ‘Linking colony size with quantitative estimates of ecosystem services of African fruit bats’, Current Biology, 29(7), pp. R237-R238. Doi:

[2] Eidolon helvum Monitoring Network [YEAR UNKNOWN]. Available at: (Accessed: 17 April 2024).

[3] What is a roost?

The place a bat lives is called its roost. Bats need different roosting conditions at different times of the year and they will often move around to find a roost that meets their needs. Some bats prefer trees or hollow trees, some like caves and some use both at different times. Many bats shelter in buildings, behind hanging tiles and boarding or in roof spaces (

[4] Weber, N. et. al. (2023) ‘Robust evidence for bats as reservoir hosts is lacking in most African virus studies: a review and call to optimize sampling and conserve bats’, Biology Letters, 19, pp.1-20. Doi:

[5] What is one health?

One Health is an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems (

[6] Icarus Global Monitoring with Animals (2024). Available at: (Accessed: 17 April 2024).

[7] Bat Conservation International (2024). Available at: (Accessed: 17 April 2024).

[8] UNEP/ EUROBATS Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (2024). Available at: (Accessed: 17 April 2024).

[9] See Kunz, T. H. et. al., (2011) ‘Ecosystem services… in Footnote 1.