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Experts call attention to consequences of dwindling bat populations — here's how it could impact you

It's time to shed some light on the vital role bats play in agriculture and a sustainable environment.

It's time to shed some light on the vital role bats play in agriculture and a sustainable environment.

Photo Credit: iStock

Bats have long suffered from a negative PR problem, but with their populations dwindling, it's time to shed some light on the vital role they play in agriculture and a sustainable environment. 

What's happening?

Bat populations around the globe have been declining in large numbers due to a variety of factors, according to the Guardian

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, climate-driven events such as extreme weather are pushing these flying mammals out of their familiar roosting locations and disrupting their normal cycles. As the planet warms, there has been an uptick in severe storms, droughts, and wildfires, all of which disrupt animal habitats. Humans play a part, as well, advancing deforestation in the pursuit of raw materials, farmland, and expanding the human footprint.

Additionally, there's been a massive uptick in white-nose syndrome since it was discovered in 2006, according to the Guardian. This fungus attacks bats as they hibernate and is easily transmissible throughout the population. It makes them burn up their energy stores too quickly and uncharacteristically venture out during colder months.

Why is this concerning?

Bats have been stereotyped as spooky and disturbing creatures, yet their presence is usually an indication of a thriving ecosystem. Without them, we'd face a noticeable agricultural impact.

According to the National Park Service, insect-eating bats provide an estimated $3.7 billion worth of free pest control each year in the U.S., benefiting the harvest of staples such as rice, coffee, and chocolate. 

Just like bees, some even help pollinate desirable crops, including avocados, bananas, coconuts, and agave (a key component in tequila). 

The Guardian relayed comments from Diana Pinzón, a forestry engineer, who noted the high demand for agave-based spirits is "not sustainable long-term." She said: "It's a big problem for agaves endemic to Mexico, and for the bats and all the biodiversity around the ecosystems where the agaves grow."

Other bat species provide valuable seed dispersal services, helping to proliferate foods like figs, papayas, mangos, and almonds.

What can you do to help?

More than 52% of North American bats are already at risk of becoming endangered, threatened, or under review over the next 15 years and need action to help them survive, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Individuals can do their part by buying or building their own bat houses to support local populations.

Other positive actions include retaining natural environments on properties, reducing pesticide use, and leaving outdoor lights off at night. Donations can also be made to groups actively promoting the conservation of bat populations and working with federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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