August 2010 Edition - Radish Magazine

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August 2010 Edition - Radish Magazine

healthy living

Bats on the brink

Loss of friendly insect eaters could affect our food chain

By Lindsay Hocker

In recent years “colony collapse disorder” — the

term describing the disappearance of honeybees —

has become a familiar phrase. However, bees are not

the only animals important to agriculture suffering a

serious and mysterious decline in population. Since

2006, more than a million bats have died from whitenose

syndrome.

“It’s a fungal infection with a mortality rate of

nearly 100 percent,” says Joe Kath, endangered species

program coordinator for Illinois Department of

Natural Resources. While white-nose syndrome is a

serious threat to bats, Kath says it isn’t transmissible

to humans.

The decline in bat population does have implications

for the well-being of people, however. Bats,

which eat thousands of insects nightly, are a natural

form of pest control. Kath says any loss of bats is bad

for the agricultural industry, because fewer bats will

likely mean more pesticide applications, which Kath

says translates into other harmful effects for humans

and wildlife, as well as more expenses.

8

“You’re going to see increased cost at the grocery

stores,” he says.

In addition to helping keep the numbers of

crop-eating bugs down, Kath says bats are also important

because they are natural pollinators.

The number of bats who have died from whitenose

syndrome is constantly climbing, Kath says.

The more than one million who have died so far

was already “a very noticeable chunk” of the United

States’ bat population, he says, adding that it could

take the bat population decades to return to prewhite-nose

syndrome numbers.

Cave closures

Little brown bats with white-nose syndrome. (Photo courtesy of Nancy

Heaslip / New York Department of Environmental Conservation)

Most publicly-owned caves in Illinois and Iowa

were closed this spring as a precautionary measure in

hopes of keeping the disease from spreading further.

Kath says people could carry microscopic fungal

spores from one cave to another on their clothing or

equipment, which would put the bats in that cave in

danger unintentionally.

In Illinois, only one of the six publicly-owned

caves was open to the public. Kath says it was a tough

call to close Illinois Caverns in Monroe County,

because it took away an educational opportunity.

Even so, he says the closure was necessary.

Throughout Illinois, there are at least 50-60

caves. Kath says most of the caves are privatelyowned,

so state officials are teaching landowners

about white-nose syndrome and encouraging them to

restrict access to their caves as well.

When DNR officials enter the caves to check for

the fungus, Kath says they must wear hazmat suits,

and follow a “very strict decontamination procedure”

where they clean their equipment and gear to ensure

they won’t spread the fungus.

At Maquoketa Caves State Park in Maquoketa,

Iowa, the caves were closed on May 3. Park Ranger

Scott Dykstra says the number of park visitors has

dropped significantly since the park’s cave closures.

“We don’t want them closed, but it’s something

we have to do to protect our natural resources,”

Dykstra says.

Even though the caves

are closed, Dykstra

says there’s still

plenty to do

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