Endangered bats are crucial for crop success

A study, published in this month’s “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” journal, has shown that bats are extremely important for pest control.

The study was conducted in the US and the authors conclude that, on corn alone, bats are worth about 1 billion US dollars to the industry due to removing insect pest species. The authors point out that their calculations do not take indirect impacts into account such, as reduced pesticide usage, and so the true figure is likely much higher.

The findings are especially important as bats are seriously at risk in the US due to a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome. White nose syndrome is a fatal disease which results in fungal growth on the bat. The fungus appears to result in the bat entering a hibernation like state where it uses all of its fat and energy reserves. The disease is spreading rapidly and has killed around 6 million bats in the US which has resulted in several million kilograms of insects going uneaten and damaging crops. At present the disease is not understood as some European bats have the same fungus but seem to suffer no ill effects.

Bats are also crucial for seed dispersal and for pollination and so their loss affects all aspects of crop cultivation. Rather surprisingly, bats account for 1/5th of all terrestrial animals so any loss of bat species will result in huge ecological gaps and higher numbers of insects are one of the results of this. It is hoped that the findings of the study will help decision makers to realise the impact that bats have and prompt them to put measures in place to save them.

Bat decline is not only due to white nose syndrome. They are at risk from human encroachment as many roosting sites are removed or built on, causing bats to relocate. This relocating also encourages the spread of the disease as bat colonies are forced to travel to new areas, which may not have had the disease. In many cases bats are some of the most endangered creatures in the world but a public fear and the lack of a “cuteness” factor has resulted in little action being taken. This attempt to monetize the bats is hoped to have more of an impact and lead to conservation for financial reasons.

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