A national plan to save them
With bats facing disaster, and agriculture in danger of devastation as a result, some of the world’s top bat experts have been meeting in Little Rock, Ark., this week, to come up with a rescue plan.
Little brown bats are facing extinction from a fungal infection called white nose syndrome (WNS) that has already wiped out more than 70 percent of bat populations in 16 states and three Canadian provinces. First noted in 1996, it’s now moving westward across the country, taking hold in the Midwest and Great Plains, where bats are not only dying from WNS but from wind turbines. (It’s not just the blades that kill the bats; the wind turbines affect air pressure all around them, injuring the lungs of animals nearby.)
Saving the bats is not just urgent for the animals themselves. They’re a critical part of the whole ecosystem. Little brown bats eat roughly their own volume in insects every night – insects who would otherwise be consuming agricultural crops. They also help pollinate those same plants. In those terms, their economic value alone is worth several billion dollars each year.
The organizers of the symposium have produced a plan that will involve federal and state agencies, national and local organizations, and volunteers who want to help. It gives direction on how to manage the illness where it’s already taken hold, how to understand what causes it and how it spreads, how to take care of bats and help colonies avoid it and/or recover from it.
It’s believed that the fungus associated with WNS arrived in the United States from Europe, most likely carried in somehow by humans. But European bats don’t die as a result of the infection, meaning that they have established some kind of resistance that bats on this side of the Atlantic don’t have. Understanding more about this will be key to the recovery of bats in the United States.
The National Plan emerging from this week’s symposium
Farewell to the Little Brown Bat – Zoe report
What’s Happening to Our Bats? – Zoe report
Not to Be a Pest, but Save the Bats! – Zoe report
All about white nose syndrome, from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
BBC news report with further links
Video of a cute baby fruit bat at a wildlife hospital in Australia
Why bats are critical to agriculture
What Do You Say: Do you have bats in your neighborhood? Have you seen any bat spectacles, like the great fly-by every evening in Austin, Texas?