Threatened by Mysterious Disease, Bats Are Worth Billions to U.S. Food Supply, By Rose Eveleth In onearth magazine

This magazine is so worth a read. I did not know about this until I read this issue of onearth magazine…I am so glad I did.

A study in the journal Science today makes one thing clear: Bats matter. Their appetite for bugs keeps insect populations from running — or flying — amok and costing farmers millions of dollars a year in lost crops and extra pest control.

The study authors estimate that bats are worth something like $22.9 billion a year in economic benefits, and they’re concerned because bats are dying across the country in droves.

The biggest killer is white-nose syndrome, a mysterious fungus that has killed more than a million bats since 2005. It was first discovered in a New York cave in 2005 and has since spread as far south as Tennessee and as far west as Indiana. Researchers still aren’t sure how the fungus kills, and they’re even less sure about how to stop it. Wind turbines also pose a threat, possibly killing thousands of bats each year.

When bats die, the ecosystem is thrown off balance. A single little brown bat can eat up to 3,000 insects in a single night, and one colony of big brown bats can consume 1.3 million bugs a year. But when white-nose hits, some colonies lose 70 percent of their bats. The Science study estimates that, in areas where bats are dying, between 660 and 1,320 tons of insects are no longer being eaten.

The more bugs there are, the more crops they’ll damage, and the more pesticides farmers will spray to keep them away. Those pesticides add costs for farmers, which will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher food prices.

It may come as no surprise that the authors of the Science paper — who are bat researchers themselves — suggest spending more money on bat research. But they make a strong case for the importance of their subject, arguing that even though we might not realize it, the loss of bats hurts us all.


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