Holy Cash, Batman! Bats Worth Up to $53 Billion to American Economy


A bat suffering from White Nose Syndrome. Photo: Wikipedia, Public domain

Bruce Wayne is Proud

We often hear about the ecosystem services that bees provide humans, helping pollinate a lot of fruit trees and crops. But bees aren't the only indefatigable workers toiling for our benefit. Bats also provide immense benefits by eating vast quantities of insects that would otherwise eat crops and probably cause farmers to use more pesticides. A new study highlights these benefits, but also the grave threat to bats in North-America. Will bats make it, and if they don't, what will happen to us?


Photo: g_kovacs, Flickr, CC

Bats are Under Attack, And Humans Will Suffer Too

Gary McCracken, head of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has published a study in Science that looks at the economic impact of the loss of bats in North-America. This loss isn't only tragic for the bats themselves - and that would be reason enough to protect them - but it is also giving a hit to the economy.

Since 2006, more than a million bats have died due to a fungal disease called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). At the same time, several migratory tree-dwelling species are being killed in unprecedented numbers by wind turbines. This hurts the economy because bats' diet of pest insects reduces the damage the insects cause to crops and decreases the need for pesticides.

In fact, the researchers estimate the value of bats to the agricultural industry is roughly $22.9 billion a year, with the extremes ranging as low as $3.7 and $53 billion a year. (source)

Those numbers could actually be even higher since they don't include the effect of pesticides on humans (hard to measure, but there all the same).


Photo: Radu P, Flickr, CC

White nose syndrome (WNS) is a poorly understood disease that affects bats. The condition is named after the distinctive fungal growth around the muzzles and on the wings of many affected animals (see the first picture on top of this post).

It is so bad that "The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has called for a moratorium on caving activities in the affected areas, and strongly recommends that any clothing or equipment used in such areas be decontaminated after each use."


Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CC

Making Wind Turbines Bat-Safe

Another threat to bats is, sadly, wind turbines. "It is unknown how many bats have died due to wind turbines, but the scientists estimate by 2020, wind turbines will have killed 33,000 to 111,000 annually in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands alone. Why migratory tree-dwelling species are drawn to the turbines remains a mystery."

This doesn't negate the other positive effects of wind turbines, but it certainly means that we should figure out how to make them so that bats are safer. Maybe there's a way to keep bats away or warn them with some kind of ultrasound signal, and wind farms could probably be better sited.

What is certain is that we need to act quickly. Bats don't reproduce quickly and whole populations can collapse if nothing is done to relieve the pressure that weighs on them.

Via Science Daily

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Tags: Agriculture | Animals