One of the points of this blog is to learn, show, and communicate about how things are linked together and thus why they matter to humans at all. "White-nose syndrome" is a fungus that is attacking and killing bats in the US northeast, starting in New England and over the last year spreading down into PA and West Virginia. It was found that 11,000 bats died in Albany NY in 2006. As the disease spreads, researchers are finding that as many as 90% of the bats in a given cave are dying after infection.
So who the hell cares? I mean, bats! Stupid flying night mice!
Well here's an interesting way to look at it:
- There's a communicable disease currently attacking a mammal population with a 90% fatality rate (something like Ebola to humans).
- Bats make up fully one quarter of all mammals on the planet Earth
- Diseases can jump from bats to humans in several ways, either direct, or bats can serve as a host for a virus, a reservoir for a virus like Ebola, for example.
Then, think of all the insects that bats eat. Bats help keep insect populations in check. Take away the bats, and insect populations may explode depending on the location, and if mosquito or other harmful insect populations swell, then harm to humans increases and if the bats don't come back, the threat may become permanent, expand, and evolve into new opportunities for disease.
Additionally, bats contribute largely to plant pollination. Since plants are the main source of food (directly or indirectly) for all animals, then this is a pretty obvious concern, especially when coupled with the mysterious illness that is attacking another great pollinator, the bees.
Like a football game, or a competitive company, or just working hard, it's the small things that add up to a win or a loss. And now, many little things are piling up on the world's bat populations (as with bees and thousands of other species). And these things will, over time, begin impacting people, as many have already. Then the little things will begin piling up on our backs.
No illness related to white-nosed syndrome has been linked to human sickness, so there is no need for people to run out and begin mass-murdering bats. The main point, I think, is that, when researchers figure out what's causing the disease, that we work to help bats and prevent the disease from decimating bat populations, because they are valuable to the ecosystems that we are evolved to live in, and if they go away, the ecosystem will change, and most likely that won't be in our favor. We're losing bats, bees, songbirds, frogs...too much too fast, and we may not just miss these animals, we might find out--too late--that we needed them.
Here are a few places that I'm just beginning to investigate:
- Bat Conservation International: http://www.batcon.org/
- Organization for Bat Conservation (must be tough to answer the phone there) http://www.batconservation.org/
- Bat Conservation and Management http://www.batmanagement.com/