Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Anthropology and Environmental Policy


Lisa Neuman

Second Committee Member

Darren Ranco

Third Committee Member

Cynthia Isenhour

Additional Committee Members

Sandra De Urioste-Stone

William Smith


This dissertation presents a multispecies ethnography that explores the relationships among agaves, bats and humans in the border region shared by Sonora, Mexico and Arizona, USA. The work follows the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae); Agave angustifolia, which is the species of agave used to make bacanora; and the human stakeholders who have become increasingly entangled in these bat-agave relationships. This ethnography de-centers the human actor bringing bats and agaves into the center of the story to provide alternative ways to understand human relationships with other species. In doing so, the ethnography challenges dominant assumptions about the human-nature divide. The first part of the dissertation explores these bat-agave-human relationships more generally. Part two takes a closer look at how the bacanora industry, along with binational conservation efforts, are shaping these human-nonhuman entanglements in the Sonora-Arizona borderlands. Nectar-feeding bats and agaves have co-evolved for millions of years. Lesser long-nosed bats forage for agave nectar, passing pollen from plant to plant, during their migration from southern Mexico to southern Arizona. This mutualistic relationship is threatened by habitat loss and climate change. Additionally, the growing bacanora industry in the state of Sonora is now one of the primary threats to the agave-bat relationship. Bacanora is a type of mezcal originating from the mountains in eastern Sonora. It is a culturally significant beverage that supports local livelihoods in the most marginalized region of the state. As demand for the agave distillate grows, wild agave stocks are disappearing at an unsustainable rate due to overharvesting. This multispecies ethnography follows the entanglements of the lesser long-nosed bat, Agave angustifolia and several human stakeholder groups—bacanora producers, the bacanora regulatory council and binational conservation organizations—at this time of rapid change. Qualitative data gathered from the Sonora-Arizona borderlands provides a depth and richness to these interspecies interlinkages at the local level. Participant observation and semi-structured interviews yield a diversity of stories that illustrate the complexity of changing interspecies connections within a transboundary region. This ethnographic illustration of bat-agave-human entanglements intentionally avoids oversimplified, reductionist interpretations, offering instead a valuable, nuanced understanding of these multispecies relationships that may help local stakeholders and policy makers on both sides of the border consider equitable and sustainable policy relating to the bacanora industry and conservation efforts.