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Threats to Bats

Learn more about factors impacting the survival and health of North America's bats

The Problem:

North American bats are plagued by a variety of unprecedented threats, causing precipitous declines for some populations while pushing others towards the brink of extinction. While not a complete list, some of the most notable threats to bats are described below and include the spread of diseases such as white-nose syndrome, development of wind energy facilities, climate change, and habitat loss and degradation. Data on these threats and others give scientists perspective on which species are impacted and to what degree (such as this example from NABat partners in Canada). However, quantifying and addressing the impacts of these threats on bats has proven to be historically difficult due to limitations in our knowledge of bat distribution and abundance and scattered monitoring efforts.

 

A Solution:

The North American Bat Monitoring Program helps to address this issue by providing a standardized monitoring program that can be applied on a regional or continental scale. Data collected as part of NABat are and will be used to contribute to spatially-explicit information on bat populations (e.g., density estimates), long-term distribution data, and annual/multi-annual reports of status and trends in bat distributions and relative abundances. This information aids wildlife managers and other key bat monitoring groups identify, respond to, and mitigate threats such as those described below.

 
White-nose Syndrome

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease that affects hibernating bats and is caused by an invasive, cold-growing fungus. The fungus grows on bats’ skin, disturbing their hibernation and resulting in dehydration, starvation and often death. First documented in New York in 2006, white-nose syndrome has since spread to numerous U.S. states and Canadian provinces driving severe population declines in some bat species. Click on the button below to learn more or explore the WNS publications database.

 
Wind Energy

Estimates of fatality indicate hundreds of thousands of bats die annually after colliding with spinning turbine blades. Given bats are long-lived and typically only have 1 to 2 pups per year (with a few exceptions, e.g., hoary bats), existing fatality rates may not be sustainable for certain species. Recent studies indicate population-level declines are possible, particularly given the anticipated growth of wind energy development. In the face of these impacts, significant investments have been made to identify solutions that will minimize impacts to bats and enable sustainable bat populations and the continued deployment of wind energy. NABat contributes to the solution by providing the protocols and standardized sample design necessary to facilitate long-term data collection. These data are then used to identify population-level changes which helps to guide key management decisions.

 
Climate Change 

 The effects of climate change on bat species are widespread and variable, impacting multiple aspects of their ecology. Changing temperatures and extreme weather events, such as extreme heat or cold and increasingly arid environments, may produce unfavorable habitat conditions and distort behavior and development of insect prey or other food resources. As a result, bats may alter patterns of roosting, foraging, reproduction, and migration, and even shift their ranges in an attempt to find more favorable conditions. 

 

 
Habitat Loss & Degradation

Forests and underground structures, including caves and mines, comprise a majority of the habitat bats utilize for activities such as roosting, foraging, and reproduction. The growing collapse and loss of these habitats resulting from human activities such as deforestation, agricultural land conversion, mining, misguided pest management, and urbanization continue to cause substantial impacts on the abundance and diversity of bats at a global scale.