Bats are hard at work around the world, fulfilling tasks that are vital to healthy ecosystems and human economies. Many of the more than 1,200 bat species are insectivorous. Here in Ohio all 11 species of bats consume vast amounts of insects, including some of the most damaging agricultural pests.
According to Bat Conservation International “A pregnant or nursing mother of some species will consume their body weight in insects each night. A single little brown bat can eat more than 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in just one hour.”
Bats in North America are under pressure from a new major threat called White Nose Syndrome. White Nose Syndrome is likely caused by a fungus called Geomyces Destructans. The fungus infects the skin of bats while they hibernate and is thought to trigger fatal alterations in the animal’s behavior.
White Nose Syndrome was first observed on bats in upstate New York in 2006. It has since then spread west of the Appalachian Mountains.
“The most recent estimates suggest that 5.7 to 6.7 million bats have now died from white nose syndrome,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
White Nose Syndrome is decimating bat populations with mortality rates reaching up to 100 percent at many sites.
So why should we care? Because bats in North America are not the only victim; so is the U.S. economy. Gary McCracken, head of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has studied the economic impact of the loss of bats in North America in agriculture.
McCracken found the estimated value of bats to the agricultural industry is roughly $22.9 billion a year, with the extremes ranging as low as $3.7 and as high as $53 billion a year. Although his study was based in Texas on cotton, we Buckeyes could feel similar effects.
According to the research study, “the value of pest suppression services provided by bats is $12 to $173/acre but most likely $74/acre annually.”
The 2007 Census of Agriculture for Ohio shows the average farm to be 184 acres. Using the amount documented by the University of Tennessee, an average farmer could be paying as much as $2,000 to $31,000 annually in pest suppression.
According to McCracken, “solutions will only be fueled in the next few years by increased awareness of the benefits of insectivorous bats among the public, policymakers and scientists. Bats are among the most overlooked, yet economically important, nondomesticated animal in North America and their conservation is important for the integrity of ecosystems.”