What do you call a bat so common it seems to be everywhere? You call it what it is: The little brown bat.
But as white nose syndrome, that mysterious disease, spreads from cave to cave across the U.S., the little brown bat may disappear completely, at least from some areas where it was once the most common bat around.
That's what could happen, according to a coalition of scientists and conservation groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity, which is petitioning the federal government to list the little brown bat as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Already, several of the 9 species diagnosed with white nose syndrome are endangered bats at risk of extinction from the disease, and the same group of conservationists has previously petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the northern long-eared bat and the eastern small-footed bat as endangered, too.
"The little brown bat is in imminent danger of extinction in its northeastern core range due to white-nose syndrome, and the species is likely in danger of extinction throughout North America," said Thomas H. Kunz, a Boston University scientist who has studied the impact of white nose syndrome on the little brown bat.
Just two weeks ago, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reported startling news from the state where the disease was first diagnosed in 2006. Every cave surveyed is infected, so all are presumed to be infected, and some caves that once were filled with bats had been wiped clean of bats. The hopeful news was that 10% of bats in some caves infected by white nose syndrome had survived.
Already, that die-off has resulted in 700 fewer tons of insects consumed by the insectivorous bats, according to one study. That, in turn, could spur more farmers to use more toxic pesticides, since several bat species eat agricultural pests.
"If the little brown bat, one of Americas most common and widespread bats, is facing regional, and possibly total, extinction, imagine the threat to less-adaptable and far-reaching species," said Nina Fascione, executive director of Bat Conservation International. "More than half of the 46 U.S. bat species are potentially susceptible to white-nose syndrome. We must protect the survivors before time runs out."
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