Friday, January 23, 2009

Bees, Frogs, Bats and Bad News

First it was the bees, then the frogs and now, it's the bats. What's next?

It appears that the economy isn't the only failing system in the US. The nation's ecosystem and its agricultural base are just as much in a state of crisis. Yet, from all appearances, it seems that the problem is getting little attention and almost no support for the people working on a plan for rescuing and revitalizing the environment.

In late 2006, we first began learning that the honey bees were vanishing due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

As Melissa McNamara reported in February, 2007 for CBSNews:
"In spite of all the advances in agriculture, honeybees remain indispensable. By moving pollen from flower to flower, bees are the only efficient way for many crops to pollinate, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.

As growing season begins in California's Central Valley, there is nothing quite as busy as a beekeeper. Farmers pay them to put their hives in their fields and orchards.

'It means the difference between profit and loss for them,' says beekeeper Lance Sundberg.

But beekeepers like Sundberg have a mystery in their hives this year. Bees are disappearing at an alarming rate.

'Colonies are going down. The bees aren't dead in the box or aren't out front,' says Jerry Bromenshenk, a bee researcher at the University of Montana. 'They've just disappeared. Just vanished.'

The following is a trailer for the documentary feature film - The Vanishing of the Bees which discusses the scale and potential impact of the problem.

It has also come to the attention of scientists, environmentalists and virtually anyone who spends anytime with nature that the frogs are dying.

Now it appears that bats are mysteriously dying too.

Last October Eliza Strickland reported for Discover Magazine:
"Researchers have gathered some clues to solve the mystery of what’s killing off hibernating bats throughout New England, but say they’re still far from knowing how to halt the strange die-off. In a new study, researchers identified the characteristic white fungus that has been found on the noses of dead and dying bats, and say it’s a new species of mold that thrives at low temperatures like those found in caves in the winter. But debate still continues over whether the fungus is the cause of death, or simply a secondary infection that takes advantage of bats with already weakened immune systems.

Bats covered with the fungus, a sickness now called white-nose syndrome, were first spotted in Howes Cave near Albany, N.Y., during the winter of 2006. At that time, field biologists reported caves that were typically covered with hibernating bats had loads of vacancies…. In one case, a cave floor was littered with dead bats [LiveScience].
Since then, the epidemic has spread throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont, with 80 to 100 percent of bats dying in some caves."

Now today, Sandy Bauers, Inquirer Staff Writer reports the following in her article, Troubling signs for bats in Pa:

"Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Game Commission confirmed that bats had tested positive for the same fungus found in New England bats that have been dying by the tens of thousands during the last two winters.

Everyone agrees that the finding could have profound effects on the bat population here. One of the many mysteries is whether the fungus causes the deaths, now referred to as 'white-nose syndrome,' or is a symptom.

Mass deaths have consequences not only for the bats, which are common throughout the region and are found even in urban areas.

'Bats are the best friends we have, in terms of insect control in some areas,' said game commission spokesman Jerry Feaser. 'And they are, for farmers, some of the best natural predators of crop-killing bugs.

A single bat can eat hundreds of mosquitoes and other insects an hour.
Officials are asking anyone who sees flying bats or dead bats this winter to report it to the regional game commission office in Reading at 610-926-3136.

Of course, you can't expect that a few missing and dying bees, frogs and bats to get the same media coverage as the economy or the wars. This won't be a marketable story until we're over-run with disease carrying pest insects or there is an absence of fresh fruits and vegetables in the supermarkets.

Let's just hope that it's not too late.

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