Saving bats could prevent huge U.S. farming losses

LONDON Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:09pm EDT

Fruit bats rest on tree branches within the forested area of Subic Bay in the province of Olongapo, north of Manila March 6, 2009. REUTERS/John Javellana

Fruit bats rest on tree branches within the forested area of Subic Bay in the province of Olongapo, north of Manila March 6, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/John Javellana

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LONDON (Reuters) - America's bats are dying in their hundreds of thousands due to a mysterious illness called white-nose syndrome, and efforts to save them could prevent billions of dollars in agricultural losses, scientists say.

In a paper published in the journal Science, bat researchers estimated that a single colony of 150 brown bats in the U.S. state of Indiana eats around 1.3 million pest insects a year, and that the value of such bats to agriculture may be around $22.9 billion a year.

They criticized a lack of funds and efforts to save the bats and to find out more about what is causing their widespread population decline. The current "wait-and-see" approach is unacceptable, they said.

"Bats are among the most overlooked, yet economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America, and their conservation is important for the integrity of ecosystems and in the best interest of both national and international economies," the scientists, led by Justin Boyles of the University of Pretoria in South Africa, wrote in the journal.

"The life histories of these flying, nocturnal mammals -- characterized by long generation times and low reproductive rates -- mean that population recovery is unlikely for decades or even centuries, if at all."

The deadly white-nose infection is spreading quickly across the Northeastern United States and Canada, and a study published last year suggested the disease is likely to cause the regional extinction of the one species of bat known as little brown myotis bat.

The syndrome, linked to a fungus that spreads among bats as they hibernate, affects at least seven species, experts say. It was only identified in the United States 2006, in bats nesting in caves near Albany, New York, and since then more than a million of the flying mammals have died.

"This disease is burning through our bat populations like a five-alarm fire," said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity in Ohio.

In a telephone interview, Boyles said the researchers aim was to drive home the importance of protecting bats -- animals he said were often undervalued by the public and policymakers.

"A lot of people say 'why should we care about bats?," he explained. "So our goal is to try and emphasize how important they are ecologically and economically," he said.

The scientists said the rising number of wind turbines in the United States and Europe were another major threat to bats. Thousands of dead bats have been found near wind farms, and some scientists believe sudden changes in air pressure close to wind turbines can cause the lungs of the tiny creatures to collapse.

"Solutions that will reduce the population impacts of white-nose syndrome and reduce the mortality from wind-energy facilities are possible in the next few years," they wrote. "But identifying, substantiating, and applying solutions will only be fueled...by increased and widespread awareness of the benefits of insectivorous bats among the public, policy-makers and scientists.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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Comments (2)
VickyNay wrote:
We had bats that used to live in a big old barn that we have. We used to love seeing them in the evening swoop and dive eating bugs. Since NextEra put up wind turbines across the street from our house we have had no bats at all. This past summer, we had so clouds of moths and mosquitos. It was terrible. Also missing are the lovely herons and hawks that visited. Add that to the fact that the turbines are noisy and have given me a walloping case of vertigo. Vicky Nay, Dekalb County, Illinois

Apr 01, 2011 10:55am EDT  --  Report as abuse
learnmore wrote:
WNS has not yet reached Wisconsin, but most likely will be here this year or the next. NWS will kill most hibernating bat species. Migrating bats will more likely be killed by Industrial Wind Turbines.

Bat deaths (hibernating and migrating) from industrial scale wind turbines have be documented from several wind projects, the average kill rate appears to be 40.54 bat kills per turbine per year. That means the 300+ industrial wind turbines in Wisconsin are killing 12,000+ bats a year. The bats are dieing from “Barotrauma” or exploding lungs, as the bats avoid the spinning blades, and fly into the low pressure zone behind the spinning turbine blades. These kill rates are close to the Pennsylvania/Appalachian kill rates, and appear to be consistent regardless of wind turbine placement i.e. agricultural land as well as near Horicon Marsh (see Necedah Mines.

Because wind developers/utilities want money they refuse to curtail wind turbines at night, despite the turbines inability to reduce nighttime baseload coal generation(no CO2 emission reduction), which leads to excessive noise, chronic sleep loss for people, and bat deaths from Barotrauma.

To save bats ahead of the WNS plague industrial wind turbine should be curtailed during migration, breeding, and feeding times, or dusk til dawn.

Please do more research on post construction bird and bat kills from industrial wind turbines, as this is a serious matter glossed over by a green stained industrial scale nightmare.

Apr 01, 2011 3:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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