Ecological and economic importance of bats

  • Ducummon S
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Abandoned mines now serve as important year-round sanctuaries for bats.
Many of North America's largest remaining bat populations roost in
mines. These include more than half of the continent's 45 bat species
and some of the largest populations of endangered bats. Bats have lost
countless traditional roosts in caves and old tree hollows and many have
gradually moved into abandoned mines, which can provide similar
environments. Mine closures without first surveying for bats can have
potentially serious ecological and economic consequences. Bats are
primary predators of night-flying insects, and many such insects rank
among North America's most costly agricultural and forest pests. These
include cucumber, potato, and snout beetles; corn-earworm,
cotton-bollworm, and grain moths; leafhoppers; and mosquitoes. A single
little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) can catch more than 1,200
mosquito-sized insects in an hour. A mine roosting colony of just 150
big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) can eat sufficient cucumber beetles
each summer to protect fanners from 33 million of these beetles' root
worm larvae, pests that cost American farmers an estimated billion
dollars annually. And a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida
brasiliensis) living in the old Orient Mine consumes nearly two tons of
insects nightly, largely crop-consuming moths. In the western states,
pallid bats (Antrozous pallidus) benefit ranchers by consuming large
quantities of grasshoppers and crickets. Lesser and greater long-nosed
bats (Leptonycteris curasoae and L. nivalis) and long-tongued bats
(Choeronycteris mexicana) are believed to be important pollinators for
some 60 species of agave plants and serve as both pollinators and seed
dispersers for dozens of species of columnar cacti including organ pipe
and saguaro, which rank among the southwestern deserts' most familiar
and ecologically important plants. Despite their critical role in our
environment and economy, available evidence suggests that millions of
bats have already been lost during abandoned mine safety closures or
renewed mining in historic districts. These actions could endanger even
currently abundant species, forcing the need for Federal listing at
considerable taxpayer expense. The loss of bats can increase our
reliance on chemical pesticides (which often threaten both environmental
and human health), jeopardize whole ecosystems of other plants and
animals, and harm human economies. The cost of surveying and protecting
key mine roosts is small compared to the benefits provided by these
valuable night-flying allies.

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  • S L Ducummon

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