Thousands of bats have been killed by wind turbines causing a population decline that could cost the farming industry billions each year, experts claim.
The nocturnal creatures are welcomed by farmers across the world as they eat large numbers of insects that usually damage crops.
This reduces the amount that farmers have to spend on pesticides and saves millions of new plants that could be obliterated by the creepy crawlies.
But it is believed that bats and similar species are being killed ‘in unprecedented numbers’ by the enormous rotor blades of wind turbines.
Thousands of dead bats have been found near wind farms, and some scientists believe sudden changes in air pressure close to wind turbines can cause the lungs of the tiny creatures to collapse.
The scientists said the rising number of wind turbines in the United States and Europe had become a major a threat to the population of bats
Writing in the journal Science, researchers estimated that the bats are worth billions to the agriculture industry.
‘Not acting is not an option because the life histories of these flying nocturnal mammals – characterised by long generation times and low reproductive rates – mean that population recovery is unlikely for decades or even centuries, if at all,’ Dr Gary McCracken from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville told the Daily Telegraph.
He added: ‘Without bats, crop yields are affected. Pesticide applications go up. Even if our estimates were quartered, they clearly show how bats have enormous potential to influence the economics of agriculture and forestry.’
It was reported that a colony of bats in Indiana ate around 1.3million insects in single year. Researchers estimated that hat the value of such bats to agriculture may be around £13bn a year.
The report also identified a mysterious illness called white-nose syndrome that has been responsible for thousands more deaths among bat populations.
But it criticised a lack of funds and efforts to save the bats and to find out more about what is causing their widespread population decline. The current ‘wait-and-see’ approach is unacceptable, they said.
‘Bats are among the most overlooked, yet economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America, and their conservation is important for the integrity of ecosystems and in the best interest of both national and international economies,’ the scientists, led by Justin Boyles of the University of Pretoria in South Africa, wrote in the journal.
‘The life histories of these flying, nocturnal mammals – characterised by long generation times and low reproductive rates – mean that population recovery is unlikely for decades or even centuries, if at all.’
The deadly white-nose infection is spreading quickly across the Northeastern United States and Canada, and a study published last year suggested the disease is likely to cause the regional extinction of the one species of bat known as little brown myotis bat.
The syndrome, linked to a fungus that spreads among bats as they hibernate, affects at least seven species, experts say.
‘Solutions that will reduce the population impacts of white-nose syndrome and reduce the mortality from wind-energy facilities are possible in the next few years,’ they wrote.
‘But identifying, substantiating, and applying solutions will only be fuelled…by increased and widespread awareness of the benefits of insectivorous bats among the public, policy-makers and scientists.’
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