Bat populations are on a decline—this is why it matters

Cory Olsen

Sending out the bat signal to all cottagers: we have some work to do! The Bat Conservation International’s State of the Bats report warns that North America could lose 52 per cent of its bat species in the next 15 years unless we act now.

Why are bats so important?

These flying mammals eat insects, control pest outbreaks, and stop the spread of disease by insects, according to Cori Lausen, director of bat conservation at Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. “They are essential for our forest, agricultural, and organic farming industries because they are a natural method of managing pest populations,” she says. And let’s not forget about biodiversity—they make up nine per cent of mammal species in Canada. A threat to bats is a threat to our natural ecosystems. 

What’s harming the bats? 

White-nose syndrome, a bat-specific fungus that grows on the animal while they hibernate, is one of bats’ main kryptonite. “It eats holes into bats’ wings to where they can’t fly anymore,” says Lausen. “Since they use their energy to fight off the disease, these bats often don’t make it through winter.”

Wind turbines are also a problem for bats as they migrate to warmer climates. “We expect death to increase as society puts more emphasis on renewable energy,” Lausen says. “When we see a 500 per cent increase in wind turbines on the landscape by 2050, we are also talking about millions of bat deaths.”

What can we do about it?

White-nose syndrome solutions are tricky. Lausen’s team is working on administering probiotics to bats through their roosts or bat boxes in urban areas. Most bats live in rural areas, so it’s easier to look at other threats and act on those. “Reducing threats gives bats that survive the fungus a good chance of reproducing to build back their populations,” says Lausen.

Here’s how you can help: keep your furry felines indoors because they are the biggest predators of bats in urban areas. Lausen also recommends supporting the organic farming industry. “They aren’t using pesticides. It’s better for human health and bats, who consume the insects on the produce,” says Lausen. Another solution is to support sustainable forestry practices. Bats need mature trees to roost in. “By supporting sustainable forestry and purchasing recycled or alternative paper products, we are not only saving the bats’ homes, but we are reducing the constant pressure of having to keep up with the demand of cutting down trees.”

For those living in urban areas, consider a bat box. Rural homeowners should avoid this tactic and let bats roam wild and free in the backyard, provided there are natural cracks and crevices in which bats can roost—only a few species of bat typically use bat boxes, which could displace many other species of bats. And, if you have a big tree in your backyard, keep the main trunk—bats will find a cozy spot between the bark and cavities or under the bark. 

Talk to your local representative about not running wind turbines when wind speeds are low—it harms migrating bats and doesn’t produce much energy, anyway. “Without policies in place to require wind energy companies to not operate turbines at appropriately low wind speeds, migrating bats are dying needlessly. Populations of these long-lived, slow-reproducing mammals cannot withstand such a heavy death toll annually,” says Lausen.

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