Bats are critical to many ecosystems across the globe, and their elimination would have countless negative environmental and economic impacts. To some extent, we have already seen the impacts of lack of bats in areas most severely impacted by White nose syndrome such as the Northeastern United States. Bats consume millions of insects worldwide, helping control the populations of insects that damage crops and spread disease in humans (Kunz et al 2011). Kasso et al (2013) estimated that 99% of crop pests were controlled in some capacity by bat predation.
If insect populations exploded due to loss of bats, the estimated monetary damage to crops was estimated to be $74/acre for the US by Boyles et al (2011), meaning global loss of bats over 378 million acres of farmland globally could cost close to $273 billion (fao.org). As a result, the price of food would increase, causing financial strain on families and restaurants. Perhaps the higher prices of fresh food would lead to increased consumption of processed foods, further worsening the obesity crisis in the West. In addition, more volume of toxic pesticides would be needed to control insect populations, releasing more chemicals into the environment. This would have untold environmental impacts and potentially health impacts such as cancer clusters in areas close to the farms.
Bats are also important seed dispersers and pollinators, especially for tropical fruits such as mangos, papayas, and bananas (Boyles et al 2011). Without pollinators, these relatively common fruits could be damaged significantly and disappear from grocery stores. In desert habitats, bats pollinate cacti which are critical to the ecosystem. Without cacti, the ecosystem wouldn’t have enough water to support life in the dry climate (Frick et al 2013, Nobel 2002). Clearly, bats are critical to ecosystems across the globe and it is well worth investing in conservation now to prevent larger issues in the future.
June 29, 2016