What's Driving the Deaths of Bats Worldwide: Not Just White Nose Syndrome

First Posted: Jan 21, 2016 12:43 PM EST

What's helping drive the deaths of bats worldwide? It may not only be due to white-nose syndrome. Scientists have taken a closer look at bat deaths and found that new threats surpass all prior known causes of bat mortality.

"Many of the 1,300 species of bats on Earth are already considered threatened or rdeclining," said Tom O'Shea, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The new trends in reported human-related mortality may not be sustainable."

Bats are long-lived, slow-breeding mammals that play vital roles in most of Earth's ecosystems. Bats are important pollinators and seed dispersers in tropical regions, and serve as the main predators of night flying insects in most parts of the world.

In this latest study, the researchers combined the scientific literature dating from 1790 to 2015 in search of annual mortality events involving more than 10 bats per event. Then, the scientists divided these "multiple mortality events" into nine different categories, spanning a variety of both natural and human causes. In the end, the researchers found and categorized a total of 1,180 mortality events from all over the world, representing more than 200 years of recorded history.

Before the year 2000, the intentional killing of bats by humans caused the greatest proportion of mortality events in bats globally. Now, though, collisions with wind turbines in addition to white-nose syndrome in North America are the primary causes of mass morality. In addition, extreme weather can also cause mass mortality.

The findings reveal what should be watched out for when it comes to dealing with bat morality. More specifically, scientists can use these findings to educate the public.

The findings are published in the journal Mammal Review.

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