Survey of Columnar Cacti and Carrying Capacity for Nectar-Feeding Bats on Curaçao

We estimated the population sizes of the three species of columnar cacti that grow on the island of Curaçao using ground and aerial transects, and we examined the island’s carrying capacity for two species of nectar-feeding bats that depend on nectar from the flowers of these cacti. We calculated carrying capacity based on the daily availability of mature flowers between January and December 1993 and the field energy requirements of bats as estimated from an equation for eutherian mammals (low estimate) and one for passerine birds (high estimate) based on body mass. Additional energy requirements of pregnancy and lactation were taken into account. We estimated that 461,172 columnar cacti were present on Curaçao (38% Subpilocereus repandus, 51% Stenocereus griseus, and 11% Pilosocereus lanuginosus). May through September are the critical months when bats rely most heavily on cactus for food. July 1993 was a bottleneck with the smallest number of mature flowers per day. July and August were months of greatest energy demand because females were lactating. We estimate that the carrying capacity for Glossophaga longirostris in July, when the bat (Leptonycteris curasoae) population was 900, was near 1200, an estimate that fits the observed population size of nectar-feeding bats on the island. We suggest that the extensive removal of native vegetation occurring on Curaçao be strictly regulated because further destruction of the cacti will result in a decrease and potential loss of the already low populations of nectar-feeding bats.

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