Regarded by many as disease-carrying pests, bats are often feared and hated among the human populace. Yet, what many people fail to realize is that they play a vital role in our fragile ecosystem — they pollinate flowers, help disperse fruit seeds and eat insect pests, reducing the need for pesticides. With about 1,240 bat species worldwide, they are often taken for granted. Now, they are in major danger.
Bats are disappearing due to a multitude of threats, including pesticides and habitat destruction. But one threat takes the crown — the horrible white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans.
A new study, from researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois, found that the fungus can literally make a meal out of any carbon source likely to be found in caves. “It can basically live on any complex carbon source, which encompasses insects, undigested insect parts in guano, wood, dead fungi and cave fish,” graduate student Daniel Raudabaugh said.
Since the first instance of WNS was found on a bat in a New York cave in 2006, WNS has spread across the continent, leaving researchers and scientists struggling to find a direct cause. While there has not been much research done into the role that pesticides have played in WNS, there is research linking pesticides to immunosuppression in bats, which may make them more susceptible to WNS.
Whatever the cause, we must work hard to help conserve bats. They are a crucial indicator species and are one of the only nocturnal pollinators. They are also the only nocturnal insect predator in the U.S. — one brown bat can kill between 3,000 and 7,000 insects per night. It’s estimated that bats provide $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year worth of pest control services, helping agricultural operations (these numbers do NOT include pollination services).
WNS has killed more than 5.7 – 6.7 million bats in North America and in some caves, 90-100% of hibernating bats succumb to the disease.
Be Prepared. Know Before™.
The WeatherBug – Earth Networks Team