Let's Talk Bats
Let’s talk about bats. Not the release of “The Dark Knight,” but real bats, those furry flying mammals that crisscross our skies every night and save farmers billions in avoided crop damage and reduced pesticide costs. Bats could be a crime-fighting poster child for ecosystem services. Like many creatures with the thankless job of supporting ecosystems and our quality of life, bats are threatened by habitat loss, energy development, vandalism, even hunting.
We must highlight their place in this conversation. One study concluded that Mexican free-tailed bats save farmers in south-central Texas up to $1.7 million a year. A recent paper in Science used the Texas study to extrapolate across the U.S. and estimated the annual economic benefit of bats is between $3.7 billion/year and $53 billion/year. A great start, but it’s taken an ecological crisis, White-nose Syndrome, to turn heads toward bats.
Agricultural communities, academics, and conservationists need to partner to quantify benefits provided by bats before populations are decimated and the services are lost. Tropical regions, home to almost a third of the world’s bats, are a wide-open frontier for quantifying bat services. Pesticides are expensive and creative solutions built around ecosystem services may help farmers protect their livelihoods.
How do we bring bats into this conversation on ecosystem services? If we can harness the superpowers of bats into the Ecosystems Services argument – maybe both humans and bats will have a brighter future.