(NaturalNews) The US Fish and Wildlife Service published a plan in May of 2011 to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats. The fast-spreading disease has killed more than one million bats in the US and Canada since it detection in 2006. The new plan is meant to coordinate multiple governmental and research groups in a "swift national effort to avoid irreversible losses to bat populations".
WNS derives its name from the whitish fungus which typically appears on the nose and/or wings of infected bats. However, not all infected bats display these visual symptoms. The disease causes bats to engage in atypical behaviors such as flying during periods when their prey is unavailable, such as sub-zero temperatures in daylight hours. Infected bats will also cluster around the entrances to their hibernacula (caves and other dark places in which they can safely spend the winter months). Once the disease attacks a colony of bats, it spreads quickly and typically wipes out 90% of those sharing a hibernation dwelling.
The highly respected journal Science published a study in August of 2010 in which researched predicted that WNS would result in local extinction of some bat species within two decades. Since bats play a vital role in ecosystems, both as pollinators and through their consumption of insects harmful to crops, this could have a devastating effect on the economy. The April 2011 issue of Science included an article reporting on another study looking at the financial impact of potential bat extinction. Researchers estimated that the loss of bat populations could cost the US agriculture system more than $3.7 billion per year.
Some scientists predict the bat die-off may require more extensive use of pesticides to compensate for fact that insects destructive to crops will no longer be subject to predation by the night-flying mammals. This is ironic because many environmental experts point to pesticides, along with GMO crops, as a possible culprit contributing to the epidemic threatening the continuation of the bat species. At the same time that one arm of the federal government, US Fish and Wildlife Management, works to contain the disease, other branches continue to rubberstamp their approval of an increasing number of pesticides and genetically modified Frankenfoods whose safety has not been verified.
Bats are one of the species serving as canaries in the coal mine of the toxic chemical stew in our environment. Their unique combination of long lifespan (up to three decades) and small size (a little brown bat weighs about 8 grams) makes them especially vulnerable. Boston University bat researcher and PhD candidate Marianne Moore notes, "That's a lot of time to accumulate pesticides and contaminants. We know they are exposed to and accumulate organochlorines, mercury, arsenic, lead, dioxins but we don't understand the effects." Independent research, free of corporate influence, is needed to investigate the link between WNS and pesticides.