The bat population in the United States has declined over the last several years, with fungal diseases such as white nose syndrome, a fungal growth on the noses and wings of bats, greatly reducing the bat population. The disease has decimated the bat population in the Northeast, reaching as high as 90 percent in some regional caves. In addition to these diseases, industrial development, in particular the expansions of wind turbines, has damaged bat populations, leading some scientists to fear for the survival of several American bat species.
A recent study coauthored by Boston University’s Thomas Kunz has led many to worry about the future of American agriculture in the wake of bat extinction. Common bat species, particularly those in the Northeast and Midwest, feed extensively on insects. Brown bats, for example, are insectivores, feeding exclusively on insect species. As such, bats serve as natural pest control for farmers.
The loss of millions of bats in the Northeast has led to hundreds of millions of metric tons of insects going unconsumed. Many of these insects damage crops and wreak havoc on agricultural production. The cost of pesticides and other pest controls could range from a low of $3 billion to a high of $50 billion according to several university studies. Given the economic hardships faced by many farmers due to fuel costs and the recession, a severe increase in pest control costs could be financially ruinous to many agricultural producers in the U.S.
The causes of white nose syndrome are still unknown. However, many farmers and scientists hope that the recent Boston study will create a greater public awareness regarding the significance of bats in agriculture.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer