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Bats

Ecological And Economic Importance

To many people, bats conjure up images of vampires, evil spirits, or creepy castles. Many people also feel that bats are dirty, dangerous, ugly creatures that can get tangled in their hair. These misguided images are not, however, promoted in all societies. In some cultures bats are symbols of long life, good luck, and fertility. It is true that some species of bats can carry rabies and histoplasmosis, both of which are potentially dangerous diseases of humans and other animals. However, bats also provide crucial ecological and economic services that many people overlook.

Bat guano (excrement) collected from roosts has been used for centuries as a source of saltpeter for making gunpowder and fertilizer. Gunpowder made in this way was used in the United States during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. During World War II, U.S. military commanders considered using bats to carry small bombs into enemy territory; however, they abandoned "Project X-Ray" when one of their own buildings was gutted by a fire caused by a stray bat-ferried bomb.

Some bat species are important in the pollination and seed dispersal of plants of economic importance, such as the durian fruit of Southeast Asia. Bats are also dispersers of the seed of certain plants that colonize disturbed areas, and therefore play an important role in the revegetation of denuded places. Bats also consume vast quantities of insects, including mosquitoes and species that are agricultural pests.

Unfortunately, some bat species have recently become extinct, and many others are endangered. The geographic ranges of many other species have been drastically reduced. These ecological damages are often caused by the loss of roosting sites, deforestation, insect control, and environmental contamination with toxic pesticides, all of which are associated with human activity. The ecological consequences of the continuing decline of bat species are unknown. However, even our limited understanding of these animals suggests that the outcome will not be favorable to natural ecosystems or to the needs of humans.


Resources

Books

Fenton, M.B. The Bat: Wings in the Night Sky. Firefly Books, 1998.

Fenton, M.B. Just Bats. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983.

Kunz, T.H., and P.A. Racey, eds. Bat Biology and Conservation. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998.

Nowak, Ronald M. Walker's Mammals of the World. 5th ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

Tuttle, Merlin. America's Neighborhood Bats. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988.


Periodicals

Pettigrew, J. D. "Flying Primates? Megabats Have the Advanced Pathway From Eye to Midbrain." Science 231 (1986):1304-06.

Wilkinson, Gerald S. "The Social Organization of the Common Vampire Bat. II. Mating System, Genetic Structure, and Relatedness." Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 17 (1985): 123-34.

Wilkinson, Gerald S. "The Social Organization of the Common Vampire Bat. I. Pattern and Cause of Association." Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 17 (1985): 111-21.


Susan Andrew

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ballistic galvanometer to Big–bang theoryBats - Basic Body Plan, Diet, Sensory Systems And Echolocation, Roosting, Reproduction And Social Organization