Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Are bats the new canaries?

Sad story in NYT's Sciince times today. Bats are dying mysteriously, in large numbers, in New York and neighboring states.
In what is one of the worst calamities to hit bat populations in the United States, on average 90 percent of the hibernating bats in four caves and mines in New York have died since last winter.

Wildlife biologists fear a significant die-off in about 15 caves and mines in New York, as well as at sites in Massachusetts and Vermont. Whatever is killing the bats leaves them unusually thin and, in some cases, dotted with a white fungus. Bat experts fear that what they call White Nose Syndrome may spell doom for several species that keep insect pests under control.

Researchers have yet to determine whether the bats are being killed by a virus, bacteria, toxin, environmental hazard, metabolic disorder or fungus. Some have been found with pneumonia, but that and the fungus are believed to be secondary symptoms.
Your heart can't help but go out to our insect-eating friends whose numbers are being so brutally decimated. You also have to be concerned about the environmental impact, since bats play such an important role in natural pest-control.

Maybe the bats are dying of an infectious agent specific to their species, but maybe not. You can't help but wonder -- are the bats providing an important early warning of a more widespread environmental problem? Perhaps, like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, they have an unusual sensitivity to some unsuspected environmental pollutant that might eventually affect us all if left unchecked.

1 comment:

Jesse said...

My first thought was "are the bats the new bees?"