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Loss of bats deals heavy blow to agriculture in North America: study

04-02-2011 17:04 BJT

LOS ANGELES, April 1 (Xinhua) -- Agriculture in North America may suffer heavy economic losses due to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of bats, a new study suggests.

The study, jointly conducted by researchers at the University of Tennessee, the University of Pretoria in South Africa, the U.S. Geological Survey and Boston University, analyzed the economic impact of the loss of bats in North America.

The findings showed that agriculture in North America could suffer 3.7 billion to 53 billion dollars in economic losses in a year range due to the loss of bats.

"These estimates include the reduced costs of pesticide applications that are not needed to suppress the insects consumed by bats. However, they do not include the downstream impacts of pesticides on humans, domestic and wild animals and our environment," said Gary McCracken, a lead researcher and head of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee.

"Without bats, crop yields are affected. Pesticide applications go up. Even if our estimates were quartered, they clearly show how bats have enormous potential to influence the economics of agriculture and forestry."

Bats live on insects that could potentially be damaging to crops. A single colony of 150 big brown bats in Indiana eat nearly 1.3 million insects a year, according to the study published in the April issue of Science.

But more and more bats die due to various reasons. Since 2006, more than a million bats have died of a fungal disease called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), which infects the skin of bats while they hibernate, according to the study.

As the disease has quickly spread from Canada to Tennessee, Missouri and Oklahoma, some species such as the little brown bats are likely to go extinct in parts of North America, the study showed.

At the same time, several migratory tree-dwelling species are being killed in unprecedented numbers by wind turbines, the study noted.

It is estimated that by 2020, wind turbines will have killed 33,000 to 111,000 bats annually in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands alone.

Pointing to the economic and ecological importance of bats, the researchers call for immediate action to curb the widespread declines of bat populations.

"Not acting is not an option because the life histories of these flying, nocturnal mammals -- characterized by long generation times and low reproductive rates -- mean that population recovery is unlikely for decades or even centuries, if at all," said McCracken.

Editor:Yang Jie |Source: Xinhua

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