In a World Without Bats
Bats are everywhere. Highly adaptable and extremely diverse, there are bats living in nearly every corner of the world. In fact, they account for about 20 percent of the entire global mammal population. We humans maintain a complicated relationship with bats. They’ve been vilified in various media and, after all, they are the natural reservoirs of several infectious diseases like SARS and Nipah virus. That said, we truly could not function without them.
Imagine: a world without bats. Here’s what it would look like.
Say Goodbye to Bananas
More than 500 plants rely on bats to pollinate their flowers. These include species of mango, banana, cocoa, agave, guava, and durian. Whereas bees are attracted to bright flowers, the plants pollinated by bats often have pale, nocturnal flowers. Thusly, without bats, it would be difficult to replace these plants’ pollinators. Say goodbye to tequila, chocolate, and your favorite smoothie.
Pass the DEET
There are thousands of species of bats. While some eat fruit, others eat insects. Thousands of insects a night, in fact. This is an incredible help to farmers who’d surely lose their crops to pests were it not for bats keeping their numbers in check. And, for everyone, bats control the mosquito populations that serve as vectors for diseases like Zika and West Nile.
Old MacDonald Lost His Farm
Bat populations are in peril, particularly in North America, due to white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection that has caused winter colony declines in excess of 70 percent in the most heavily affected regions. Thanks to their role in pest control, it’s been shown that the loss of bats would cost $3.7 billion per year in agricultural losses in North America alone. Bat guano is also a very effective fertilizer and, when taken from the source, free. Because of this, it’s used quite often in lower income countries and is quite popular with organic gardeners as well. Loss of bats would have really far-reaching consequences to food security worldwide.
And that's nothing to turn your nose up at.
The Forest for the Trees
Bats can travel great distances in search of a meal… and then they can take that meal a great distance on the return flight. When bats eat fruit containing seeds, the seeds travel through their digestive system and come out in their waste with one of the world’s best fertilizers. Bats have been shown to play an important role in seed dispersal as well as reforesting areas where trees have been cleared or natural forest has been fragmented. More than 50 percent of old world rainforest is maintained by bats.
One in five mammals on this planet is a bat. To lose bats would be to lose 20 percent of the global mammal population. Biodiversity is important for several reasons. Primarily, it is because species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms. And, in fact, even a significantly lowered bat population would be problematic as genetic variation within a species is necessary to ensure its continued success.
Complete Ecosystem Collapse
Here’s where it all comes together. Bats live almost everywhere in the world, in almost every type of climate. They are also incredibly important for their respective ecosystems. Whether it’s controlling pest populations, reforesting green spaces, spreading fruit seeds, or providing the organic material which forms the cornerstone of a cave ecosystem, without bats very few ecosystems as we know them could sustain themselves. Forests would disappear, farms would be overrun by insects, and even cities would experience problems as there are urban bats in almost every city in the world.
A world without bats, now that's scary.
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