Curious. There’s great panic over the loss of bats to an epidemic but the carnage caused by aerial cuisinarts, not so much.
Scientists in Britain are monitoring the fatal ‘white-nose’ syndrome that has been devastating colonies of the flying mammals in the US
It has been a satisfying spring for bat expert Lisa Worledge. Reports sent to her from volunteers who have been monitoring Britain’s bats as they emerge from hibernation have given a clean bill of health to the nation’s flying mammals. In particular, their observations have found no sign of an epidemic of fungal disease that has wiped out almost seven million bats in the US over the past six years and threatens to leave many American species extinct.
Many biologists fear that the infection, known as white-nose syndrome, could spread to Britain, with devastating consequences. “It is a real worry and we keep a very close eye out for any sign of the disease, but so far, happily, we have not seen a sign,” said Worledge, partnership officer for the UK Bat Conservation Trust.
Bats are at their most vulnerable from white-nose syndrome while they are hibernating. Hence the decision to have volunteers monitor major sites – caves, old railway tunnels and abandoned buildings – where Britain’s 17 species of bat spend the winter. “To date, we have only had good news,” said Worledge.
The threat of white-nose syndrome worries bat experts for good reasons. Over the past six years, the disease has spread inexorably across the US. “The epidemic is heading to be one of the worst wildlife catastrophes of the century,” said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist with the Centre for Biological Diversity in the US.
Biologists say that the loss of millions of bats will cost the US billions of dollars. A single bat eats hundreds of thousands of insects on average every year. Without any major predator, insect pests will multiply and spread. In addition, bats are particularly important in America for pollinating plants and distributing seeds.