Bats

Bats are not only fascinating, but they play a significant role in ecosystems around the world. Insect-eating bats help control insect populations, including agricultural pests and disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes. Nectar-feeding bats are key pollinators for a number of plants, including giant cactus, agave, and the famed African baobab tree. Fruit-eating bats are important seed dispersers for many tropical fruit trees.

Despite their importance, bats are little-known and often misunderstood. The frightening image of the South American vampire bat has helped drive negative views about all of these fascinating winged mammals, while the threat of diseases such as rabies has led to real fear of contact with bats. At the same time, bats are being threatened on a massive scale in North America by a deadly fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome (WNS). 

WNS was first observed in February 2006 on bats in Howes Cave, near Albany, NY. Since then it has spread at a rate of 125 miles/year and has presently been confirmed in 22 states and five Canadian provinces. By 2012 it was estimated that over five million bats had died due to WNS and one affected species, the Little Brown, is predicted to go extinct regionally. This enormous loss is felt not only in the ecosystem but also in the agricultural industry as thousands of metric tons of insects are going unconsumed by bats that farmers now have to combat with pesticides and other control measures. Moreover, the impact of the epidemic is considered one of the greatest threats to a species group in over a century, and it is critical to understand the mechanics of the disease’s spread before it takes a hold in the western provinces and states. 

The WCS Health Programs are working on bat health and conservation at many locations around the world: our research ranges from the possibility that the giant hammer-headed fruit bat of Africa harbor the deadly virus Ebola to the epidemiology of the recent catastrophic die-off of insect-eating bats in North America from White-Nose Syndrome and interventions to prevent further devastation to bat populations.


Photo Credit: Nate Fuller    

Read more about our bat work

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