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Bat Disease Could Mean Massive Farm Losses

U.S. agriculture could lose up to $53 billion per year from a disease threatening the North American bat population, according to a recent study in the journalScience.

White-nose syndrome – so named for the white fuzzy growth it causes on bats’ muzzles – was first detected in New York state in 2006 and has spread to at least 16 states and three Canadian provinces, killing more than one million bats.

“Simply put, bats eat a lot of insects – insects that bother us around our homes, and insects that can damage crops and forests,” said Ohio State University Extension wildlife specialist Marne Titchenell in a Purdue University release highlighting the study.

“It’s logical to assume we’ll lose a significant amount of the pest-control services that bats provide us as the disease spreads through Ohio and potentially the Midwest,” Titchenell said.

Wildlife officials confirmed the first case of white-nose syndrome in bats in Ohio in late March. It’s fatal to at least 90 per cent of the bats in infected caves and sometimes as many as 100 per cent. Human health isn’t at risk.

TheSciencearticle estimates based on crop acreage, the number of crop pests eaten by bats, the damage to crops that their feeding prevents, and the need, as a result, for farmers to spend less on pesticides.

The total value of bats to U.S. agriculture – and the potential loss from white-nose syndrome – ranges from a low of $3.7 billion to a high of $53 billion a year, according to the study.

“Bats are among the most overlooked, yet economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America,” the study’s authors wrote, “and their conservation is important for the integrity of ecosystems and in the best interest of both national and international economies.”

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