Bats are often feared and even more often misunderstood. Bats in the United States, however, are under attack but not from the most likely sources but from a fungal disease. Soon people on the East Coast may not even have to fear bats at all as they may not even exist there in two decades.
While bats are often seen as pests, they actually play a pivotal role in the ecosystems where they reside. There are approximately 1,000 bat species, which is nearly a quarter of all mammalian species discovered to this point. Bats play major roles in insect control and as pollinators, roles which are often forgotten but result in significant savings for farmers. However, it may become glaringly obvious if bat species population numbers plummet.
Bats in North America are currently facing severe declines due to white-nose syndrome caused by a fungal pathogen. Nearly six million bats have succumbed to the disease in nineteen U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. The disease is spreading and decreasing bat populations in some areas by eighty percent. As bats battle the fungal disease, studies have also found that all bat species are also likely to be battling climate change and losing overall.
But in addition to these concerns is the possibility that wind turbines could put pressure on bat populations as well. Due to the aforementioned issues, bat populations are already facing a tough future without issues with wind farms. However, research may prove important for limiting the impact of wind turbines on bat populations, including analyzing where it is best to put turbines and what time of day certain turbines could operate without disturbing nearby populations.
Recently zoologists in Wyoming analyzed bat populations near where wind turbines could be placed in the future. The zoologists caught bats to analyze what species are found in the area as particular species in Wyoming appear to be more susceptible to turbine death than others, such as the silver-haired bat. The research may prove important as Wyoming is a major hub for wind farm growth.
The main concern for bats and wind turbines is not in fact bats striking the turbines. Bats are able to avoid the turbines themselves, however, they are extremely vulnerable to what is referred to as barotrauma. This occurs when pressure changes near the turbines cause the capillaries in the bat’s lungs to burst, subsequently leading to death.
Research into the impact of wind turbines on bats may prove pivotal to keeping bat populations healthy in wind farm-friendly regions. As climate change has been found to be a concern for bats, it would be sadly ironic if the ultimate downfall of bats were to be a tool to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases and climate change.