Dwindling Bat Populations Threaten U.S. Food Supply
A recent study found that unless we can find a solution to dwindling bat populations in North America, farmers, and ultimately consumers, are likely to pay the price.
Scientists believe that a disease known as White Nose Syndrome, first discovered in a cave outside Albany, N.Y. around four years ago, could wipe out all North American bats in less than 20 years if no cure is found.
As Care2′s Alicia Graef reports, over one million bats are thought to have died from White Nose Syndrome in the past four years. This condition awakens bats early from hibernation before there is enough available food and is indicated by a white fungus on the bat’s snout.
Scientists believe the disease is being spread between bats, but they also strongly believe that it is introduced by humans who visit bat caves.
The collaborative report from the U.S Geological Survey (USGS), the University of Pretoria, the University of Tennessee and Boston University finds bats in North America likely provide farmers more than $3.7 billion worth of pest-control services each year, but the rapid loss of bat populations could lead to agricultural losses.
As an article on SupermarketGuru.com points out, while bat populations thrived, farmers and consumers gave little thought to the services they provided in the fields. But now that their numbers are shrinking, the impact begins to emerge.
Paul Cryan, a research biologist with the USGS and one of the study’s co-authors, says that insect-eating bats in the U.S. are major predators of night flying insects and that many of those insects also damage or feed on our crops. In the U.S. and Canada there are 42 different species of bats eating these crop-damaging insects.
Without bats on the job, it’s likely that farmers will turn to increased pesticide use as a way to keep insects from eating their crops, a move that threatens human health.
Take Action: The Bureau of Land Management is accepting comments about the proposed closure of caves and abandoned mines in Colorado, where WNS has not yet been found, until June 3. You can submit your comment in writing to:
Bureau of Land Management,
Colorado River Valley Field Office
ATTN: Brian Hopkins
2300 River Frontage Rd.
Silt, CO 81652
Image: Little brown bat; close-up of nose with fungus, New York, Oct. 2008. Credit: Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service