Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bats surviving despite mass die-off

Thanks to John Shirley on Facebook for posting this story to his wall.

Millions of brown bats have died from what is known as "white nose syndrome.

The disease has only been on the radar scope of biologists for the past five years or so.  Its origins are thought to be in a type of fungus but beyond that or as to how exactly it gets transmitted between bats is still unknown.  So much of a concern is this that US officials have dictated a temporary end to caving for spelunkers in the affected areas, namely the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and Canada.  What is known for certain is that the fungus-related disease destroys the membrane that allows bats to flap their wings and it has been responsible for a 98-99% drop in the brown bat population.

Now, pockets of surviving bat colonies have been located in Vermont and Pennsylvania.  The hope is that these bats have somehow developed an adapted immunity to white nose syndrome.
“They need to be further evaluated to see if they’re exposed or carrying any of the disease,”one biologist said, but further commented that naturalists were thankful "there were survivors here at all. We’ve observed two trends, and one is that many or most of the little brown bat colonies are gone. There were hundreds, and now they’re gone.”

Already I detect the more narrow-minded and the tea bagger/fundy set (or are all of those one in the same?) yawning and saying, "So what?  Why should we care?  Why is tax money being spent on this?"
Ahhh that old chestnut.  Let me see how simply I can put it.  Bats eat bugs.  If there are no bats, more bugs attack farmers' crops.  Farmers then spend a ton more on pesticide.  Not only does this drench our food in chemicals but it raises the cost of the food.  After all, if farmers have to pay more to raise the crop, they need to recover the cost somewhere. There was even a study about this done for the journal Science.  One colony of bats was found to have eaten 1.3 million insects that would have otherwise gone after crops.  That's pretty cheap pesticide.  Additionally, bugs carry disease.  While the vast majority of the maladies are treatable, they are still nuisances that you just wouldn't want.  So like many...or most...organisms, bats matter.
As a matter of fact, I have a family member who did her graduate work in environmental science.  She worked at a firm where her job was to basically go into heavily wooded areas of Virginia and Pennsylvania to see if there were bat colonies present before an electric company could run power lines through the region.  If there were bats, the deal was off.

You know what would really chafe my rear?  If it were somehow determined that human activity was the cause of the white nose proliferation.  Can't say it would surprise me, but it would annoy me.

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