Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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Declining bat populations could spell trouble for agriculture

A flying Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasilensis,/i>) with a moth in its mouth. [ Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International, www.batcon.org]

Insect-eating bats are worth billions of dollars to the agricultural industry in North America. But, numbers are falling due to the mysterious "white-nose disease," which has already killed more than one million bats, and wind turbines that are being built to harvest energy.

In a Policy Forum appearing in the journal Science this week, Justin Boyles of the University of Pretoria in South Africa and colleagues in the United States argue that it is not enough to wait and see what happens to these declining bat populations in North America. Instead, we need to take action now to save them and to save agriculture in North America they say.

Although bats are often overlooked or even feared by humans, they are one of the most important wild animals in North America today because of the amount of insect pests they eat and the number of flowering plants they pollinate. Boyle and his colleagues estimate that a single colony of 150 brown bats in the state of Indiana can eat approximately 1.3 million insects a year. And, they say that the value of these bats to agriculture may be around 22.9 billion U.S. dollars a year.

Brazilian free-tailed bats emerging at dusk from Frio Cave in south-central Texas. [ Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International, www.batcon.org]

You can find more nifty facts about bats and what kids can do to help save them, here.

In their Science article, Boyle and his coauthors call on scientists to help educate the public on the valuable pest control and pollinating services that bats provide. Communicating this information about bats will be the key to saving bats in North America who are facing white-nose syndrome and newly developed wind energy facilities, they say.