There has been a significant population decline of bats in the eastern half of North America in recent years, but what is behind it? The answer is a fungus that manifests on the face and wings of bats and causes the disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS), which has contributed to the death of more than 5.7 million bats since it was discovered in 2006. With a 90-100% mortality rate once contracted, this disease causes the bat to lose storage of fat, driving it to leave hibernation and freeze to death, which makes it extremely important to take immediate action to prevent the disease from spreading. Bat Conservation International (BCI), Foundation Beyond Belief’s Q4 Natural World beneficiary, is taking action to save the bats.
Bats are an extremely interesting and diverse group of animals that make up one fifth of all mammals. Species vary greatly, ranging from feeding on nectar to feeding on blood; flying in the air to running on the ground; and measuring less than 1.5 inches to having a wingspan of more than 5 feet. Additionally, they are an integral part of our ecosystem, acting as an important suppressor of insect populations, as well as acting as a seed disperser and pollinator in both natural and agricultural ecosystems. For example, bats are so important in the pollination of agave cacti that without them, humans would not be able to farm agave, and thus we would not have tequila.
Bat Conservation International has an approach that includes “collaboration, education, outreach, research, conservation planning, and habitat protection” to prevent WNS. Their outreach involves educating cave-goers about the disease and how it spreads, so that they can take preventive measures. I myself have had to dip my shoes in bleach upon entering Linville Caverns, NC. Additionally, they provide funding to research that will hopefully help us understand this disease better, and thus give us a better chance of stopping it from decimating our native bat populations.
The decline in bat populations could be devastating to many of North America’s ecosystems, which is why it’s important to do what we can to protect them. Learn more about the work of Bat Conservation International on their website, and become a member of Foundation Beyond Belief to join the humanist community in supporting their vital work.