white-nose syndrome. This disease, which causes bats to awaken during hibernation, and starve as a result, is not well understood - but it is thought that cave tourism may play a part.
Little did we know that white-nose syndrome was more than just a threat to Sparky's favorite cuddly flying creatures: bats are critical to agriculture and the food supply. The U.S. Geological Survey recently released a report estimating the financial impact of bats on American food crops at between $3 and $57 billion dollars. This figure estimates the cost of the increased need for pesticides, but does not include the costs of the impact increased pesticide use may have on the environment, or on the food supply. Of course, any cost to farmers eventually gets translated into costs to the consumer...so a decrease in the bat population might forecast higher food prices.
Despite good evidence to suggest that healthy bats are linked to reduced use of pesticides, only $2.4 million dollars (plus a later addition of 1.9 million dollars) has been earmarked for study of this disease. The virulent disease was first discovered in 2006, and estimates suggest that, at the current rate of mortality, all North American hibernating bat species could be extinct in 20 years. The Department of the Interior has requested $5 million to continue study of white-nose syndrome - but in the current economic climate, funding is not guaranteed.