Monday, October 21, 2013

Fungal disease threatens to eradicate long-eared bat

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2013 at 11:06 AM

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Imagine a world without bats. Pretty easy to do since these eerie, winged creatures hibernate in caves during the winter months and remain fairly hidden from view and human concern the rest of the time. Now, imagine a world overrun by insects — moths, beetles and mosquitos flying rampant, spreading disease and affecting crop production. Doesn't sound too good, huh?

Well, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome is threatening to eradicate the northern long-eared bat.

This disease, which flourishes in areas of low temperature and high humidity, has wiped out an estimated 5.5 million cave-hibernating bats in the eastern and north central parts of the country and throughout Canada. Since scientists first took notice of the outbreak in 2006, populations in the Northeast region have drastically declined by 99 percent, according to the Service.

As a result of this troubling and predicted continuing decline, the Service has proposed to add the long-eared bat to the endangered species list. Under the Endangered Species Act, "the species will be protected from take — harming, harassing, killing — and federal agencies will work to conserve the bat and its habitat as they fund, authorize or carry out activities. In addition, a recovery plan will be developed for the species," according to a news release. If all goes as planned, after an initial 60-day public comment period, the Service will come to a final decision within the next year. 

Though, it is still unclear as to how this disease has been spread, one thing is certain: the possible extinction of this species of bat will not go unnoticed. With less bats comes more insects. With more insects comes increased use of pesticides on crops to protect against the threat of contamination, according to an article in Popular Science

In this article, Rick Adams, a biology professor at the University of Northern Colorado, says: "This is one of those situations where humans are definitely going to see the effects of it. It's like your health: You don't think about it or notice it until it's gone."

"Bats pull tremendous numbers of insects out of the air every night and we don't thank them for that often enough," he says. "When they disappear, people are really going to start noticing."

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