Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bats And Bees Are In Trouble.....That Means We Are Too

A bizarre malady known as Colony Collapse Disorder has killed billions of bees in the U.S during the last two years. Since scientists have not yet identified the cause of this scourge, the folks over at the USDA worry that the dwindling bee population may cause multi-billion losses throughout the U.S. agricultural industry. Honeybees pollinate more than 130 crops in the United States, including foods like almonds, apples, oranges and blueberries. Therefore, the USDA warns, if colonies continue to collapse, the crop losses could cause as much as $75 billion of economic damage.
Even though bees pollinate about 30% of the food we eat, they may not seem terribly important to most of us (and who likes bee stings anyway). But no less a mind than Albert Einstein once postulated that if honeybees were to become extinct, the world would starve in less than four years. We are inclined to trust his judgment.
Meanwhile, America's bat population is also in peril. "Thousands of bats are dying from an unknown illness in the northeastern U.S. at a rate that could cause extinction," Bloomberg News reports. "Most bats hibernate in the same cave every winter, keeping annual counts consistent. A cave that had 1,300 bats in January 2006 had 470 bats last year. It recently sheltered just 38. At another cave, more than 90 percent of about 15,500 bats have died since 2005."
"We've never seen anything like it, and we're all scared,'' frets Alan Hicks, the leader of the investigation for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. "You have a strong parallel with the bees in that we just don't know what's going on."
Bats tend to inspire more fear than fondness. But these flying rodents fulfill essential takes within the ecosystem. When they're not hibernating, healthy bats eat about half their weight in bugs every night, including mosquitoes, grasshoppers, locusts and moths that can spread disease among humans and devastate crops. If a bat does not flap its wings, therefore, plan on canceling those summertime picnics. More importantly, as our colleague, Kevin Kerr, reminded us yesterday, the supply-constrained grain markets are in no condition to tolerate additional stresses like grasshoppers and locusts.

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