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Bats Worth $3.7 Billion to Agriculture

It’s not a good time to be a bat. Across North America, bat populations are increasingly threatened and many species are facing local or regional extinctions. A recent paper in Science suggests that we should be paying more attention to these insect-eating mammals.

Cave dwelling bats are at risk for white nose syndrome, an infectious disease caused by the fungus Geomyces Destructans. The fungus is theorized to infect bats while they hibernate and cause fatal changes in physiology and behaviour. Already, it is estimated that over one million bats have died from this disease. Meanwhile, tree-dwelling bats are falling prey to wind turbines, although scientists are unsure of the reason why. These deaths number in the many thousands per year.

Fruit BatBut why should we care? The authors of the paper explain that bats are worth billions of dollars to the agricultural industry and should no longer be overlooked. Previous studies had calculated that insect-eating bats saved cotton farmers between $12 and $173 an acre, with the most probably estimate being $74 an acre. In this current paper, the researchers estimate that the loss of North American bats could cost the agricultural industry $3.7 billion dollars a year. This amount takes into account the value of reduced pesticide applications, thanks to the insect-eating bats.

Study author Dr. Gary McCracken, a board member for Bat Conservation International and a Professor at the University of Tennessee, also points out that this estimate is conservative and does not include downstream effects such as reduced environment impact from reduced pesticide use. And the original paper states, “Even if our estimates are halved or quartered, they clearly show how bats have enormous potential to influence the economics of agriculture and forestry.”

The authors urge policy makers to provide funding and support for bat populations, suggesting that it is in the interest of environmentalists and economists to work together to develop a solution.

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