Delving Deep: Shedding light on why bats are dying at an alarming rate

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CONSERVING VULNERABLE POPULATIONSThe value of bats to the North American agriculture industry is roughly $53 billion per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The estimates include the reduced costs of pesticide applications that would otherwise be needed to suppress the insects consumed by bats. Some bat species can eat the equivalent of more than 70 percent of their body mass in insects per night. In an hour, a single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 insects such as mosquitoes that can carry dangerous diseases, including the West Nile virus.
Bats are also pollinators. Long-nosed bats, which inhabit the dry portions of the North American tropics from El Salvador to northern Mexico, are the primary pollinators of the agave plant, from which tequila is derived. Through pollination, the bats promote the genetic diversity and vitality of wild agave. So, without bats, there might be no tequila.
In addition to the important role bats play in insect and pest control, pollination and seed dispersal, soil fertility, and nutrient distribution, they are also important prey for higher-level predators, such as owls, hawks, raccoons and snakes.
As a researcher, Loeb has been studying bat ecology since 1999. In partnership with scientists from the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Canadian Wildlife Service, she created the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat).NABat’s mission is to identify priority bat species for conservation and measure the success of conservation efforts. In 2015, NABat published A Plan for the North American Bat Population that prescribes four approaches wildlife ecologists and land managers can use to gather data to assess changes in bat distributions and abundances: winter hibernaculum counts, maternity colony counts, mobile acoustic surveys along road transects and acoustic surveys at stationary points.
“The disease [white-nose syndrome] has progressed faster than I thought it would,” Loeb says. “It’s …

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