First it was Colony Collapse Disorder with the mysterious and worrisome problem of disappearing bees. Now, bats across North America are dying too and this further threatens the sustainability of organic agriculture.
Bats are of significant importance to agriculture in general. They are of particular value to organic agriculture due to their amazing pest control abilities. A single Florida brown bat, for example, can eat over 3,000 insects in a single night! In 2006, bats living in South-Central Texas were shown to have an annual pest control value of three quarters of a million dollars. This represents nearly 30% of the entire value of the annual cotton crop for that area.
Bats assist bees with pollination duties as well. Over 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination including mangoes, guavas, dates, and bananas. The Agave plant, used in the production of tequila, also depends on bats for pollination.
In essence, bees are the pollinators of the day, and bats are the pollinators at night! Reuters estimates the value of bats to US agriculture approaches $23 billion annually.
Why Are Bats Dying?
What is killing America’s bats by the hundreds of thousands? No one knows for sure, but a fungus called White-Nose Syndrome which bats frequently pick up during hybernation, is a primary suspect for the seven species it affects. It seems unlikely that this is the only cause, however, as European bats also suffer from this widespread illness and are not dying from it.
The increased popularity of wind turbines across the US is another culprit as thousands of dead bats have been found near wind farms. Sudden changes in pressure near the turbines have the potential to collapse the tiny lungs of bats as they fly and swoop nearby to avoid the turning blades.
Like with Colony Collapse Disorder, it seems that GM crops and pesticides need to be investigated immediately as contributing reasons for this alarming bat decline which already could threaten the extinction of some species.
The critical and undervalued role of bats in organic agriculture needs to be recognized before it’s too late. Fortunately, organizations like the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Bat Conservation International are working feverishly to save these tiny mammals whose survival is so interlinked with our own.
Sources: US Forest Service
FastCompany, March 2011, Why an Epidemic of Dead Bats Could Make Your Groceries More Expensive