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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Thanks to humans, bats face extinction

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Bats are one of the most diverse groups of mammals, with over 1,300 distinct species.

They are often thought to be keystone species, as pollinators, seed dispersers, and pest control for insects, eating up to 4,500 insects per night.

These invaluable agricultural resources are currently facing many unprecedented battles with extinction.

The Northern long-eared bat, Myotis septentrionalis, widespread throughout North America, has been federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act effective May 4, 2015.

The medium-sized bat, with a wingspan of 9 to 10 inches, has primarily declined due to White-nose syndrome, a disease affecting hibernating bats.

In the winter, northern long-eared bats hibernate in hibernacula, which need to be at constant temperatures, high humidity, and no air currents.

Even the slightest disruption can awake bats and degrade their energy reserves, potentially resulting in mortality.

White-nose Syndrome emerged in the winter of 2006-07, with bats acting atypically, flying outside in the day and clustering near hibernacula entrances when they should be hibernating. It is associated with the fungus Pseudogymnoascus desutructans (Pd), which thrives in cold environments.

Pd causes erosion of the skin tissue, many bats displaying the white fungus on their noses and wings. Pd is not always visible, but the skin infection leads to heightened activity, causing bats to deplete their stored fat reserves in the winter.

Because their prey, insects, are not available in the winter, many populations starve to death. The disease has killed at least 5.7 million bats since 2006, having spread to 26 states and five provinces in Canada.

Bats are also susceptible to water scarcity, only drinking while in flight. Suitable drinking sites must be unobstructed and slow-moving; with increased human settlement and disturbance of natural resources, lactating and pregnant bats are especially affected by water stress, diminishing reproduction.

Bats, which have a multi-billion dollar ecosystem service benefit to US farmers and ranchers, will need to be maintained and conserved more carefully in the coming years to ensure their continued survival.

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