June 29, 2011

Two Bat Species Closer To Endangered Species Act Protection

Two bat species found in the US are another step closer to being declared an endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, reprots the Associated Press (AP).

Dying off from a devastating fungus that has killed off caves full of bats, the very existence of two bat species is in jeopardy.

The agency is launching a 90-day investigation into whether the eastern small-footed bat and the northern long-eared bat need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The two species would be the first to be classified as endangered and threatened because of white-nose syndrome.

Since its discovery in 2006, white-nose syndrome, or the fungus suspected to cause it, has spread from upstate New York to 19 states and four Canadian provinces, reaching from Nova Scotia to western Oklahoma.

The disease causes mortality rates of 70 to 100 percent in affected bat populations. Biologists are estimating that more than 1 million bats have died from the disease. Eventually, all 25 hibernating bat species in North America may be affected.

"The writing is on the wall," said Mollie Matteson with the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. "If action isn't taken to close caves in uninfected areas, conduct research on treatment and protect bats from other threats, we will lose these two bat species and perhaps many others."

Both species are known to hibernate in caves and abandoned mines in winter. In addition to white-nose syndrome, they are threatened by logging, energy development and probably by pollution.

"Without aggressive efforts to secure their habitat and stem further losses from all causes, including human transmission of the new bat disease, these bats may soon join the sad list of American species known only from textbooks and museums," Matteson explained.

A continued decline in bat population would be incredibly harmful. A recent study published in the journal Science estimated that the value of insect-eating bats' pest-control services to American farmers is worth $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year.

Bats have been documented to eat significant quantities of insects that attack crops, including corn, cotton, cabbage, tomatoes, fruit trees and timber.


Image Caption: Northern long-eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis). Credit: Jomegat/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) 


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