(CNN)Something to consider as you search for happy hours to celebrate National Margarita Day: The delicious concoction's main ingredient is threatened by changing weather and new strain on the agave plant's vital pollinator -- the bat.
Agave-based liquor like tequila and mezcal was the fastest growing spirits category in 2022, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the US. Analysts even say it might soon surpass vodka as the best-selling liquor in the country.
But scientists from around the world have made it clear that climate change-fueled water shortages will continue to put enormous pressure on food production. Wine and spirits, unfortunately, are not spared from that forecast. A 2019 study found that the climate crisis, coupled with overgrazing from cattle ranching and other human activities, may disrupt the distribution and cultivation of agave, the main ingredient of tequila.
While agave is a drought-tolerant plant that can thrive in hot weather with little to no water, Omanjana Goswami, a food and environment scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the life cycle of agave is too fragile to endure the major weather whiplash the climate crisis is generating -- from extreme drought to deadly storm deluges like the one California just experienced.
"Agave is a desert plant, so of course, anything that is moving towards that desert-like weather is going to help this crop thrive," Goswami told CNN. "But unfortunately, climate effects are not linear. It doesn't mean that as temperatures warm that will remain consistent."
"With extreme weather in conjunction with unpredictability, it's so hard to predict where this is going to go in the future," she added.
The animals that pollinate agave
Aside from agave plants being sensitive to weather whiplash, there's also a significant climate threat to pollinators. Bees, butterflies and bats pollinate roughly 30% of the food that ends up on our tables. Bats, like birds, are also considered a major seed disperser. But as temperatures warm, weather gets more extreme and seasons shift, those pollinators are at risk of major disruption.
Warming temperatures have become a growing concern for the Mexican long-nosed bat — a key species for tequila.
"You wouldn't have tequila if you had no bats, because that's the only thing that pollinates the agave plant that makes tequila," Ron Magill, the communications director and a wildlife expert at Zoo Miami, previously told CNN.
There are hundreds of species of agave, but only one — the Weber Azul agave plant — makes tequila. Other agave species were abandoned in Mexico and in the desert regions of the Southwest US. By law, to be considered authentic "tequila," the spirit must come from the Tequila region in Mexico. Otherwise, agave liquors produced in places like California can only be labeled as an agave spirit.
Because of the high demand for agave spirits, it's easy for farmers to fall into the practice of monoculture, where they reuse the same soil to grow a single crop, leading to a loss in genetic diversity, scientists told CNN. That includes places like California, where farmers do not rely on external pollinators like bats to grow their agave crops.