As many as 1 million bats, it was believed, had been killed by white nose syndrome—a mysterious fungus that attacks hibernating bats. However, this estimate, based on data collected in 2009, has proven to be dramatically lower than reality. According to a new study, as many as 6.7 million bats in North America have died due to the white nose outbreak.
"Bats are dying in frighteningly huge numbers and several species are hurtling toward the black hole of extinction," Mollie Matteson, a researcher with the Center for Biological Diversity, commented, and they are dying at a rate that makes this syndrome the worst wildlife disease epidemic in North American history.
Some species have experienced reductions of as much as 70 percent in the last few years. Such dramatic reductions makes these populations more vulnerable to other threats, too—things like pollution, habitat loss, and pressure from invasive species.
Moreover, the spread of the syndrome represents a serious economic threat. Bats are valued at between $3.7 billion and $53 billion per year, based on the amount of pesticides they save farmers. Currently, the epidemic has been confined to the East Coast, where agricultural development is relatively low. As it spreads west—and it is spreading farther west each season—researchers expect farmers to be met with a more noticeable impact.