Thomas Kunz, Warren Distinguished Professor in Boston University's Department of Biology, has coauthored an analysis published this week in the journal Science that shows how declines of bat populations caused by a new wildlife disease and fatalities at industrial-scale wind turbines could lead to substantial economic losses on the farm.

Natural pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats in the United States likely save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year, and yet insectivorous bats are among the most overlooked economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America, noted the study's authors, scientists from the University of Pretoria (South Africa), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the University of Tennessee, and Boston University.

"People often ask why we should care about bats," said Paul Cryan, a USGS research scientist at the Fort Collins Science Center and one of the study's authors. "This analysis suggests that bats are saving us big bucks by gobbling up insects that eat or damage our crops. It is obviously beneficial that insectivorous bats are patrolling the skies at night above our fields and forests—these bats deserve help."

The value of the pest-control services to agriculture provided by bats in the U.S. alone range from a low of $3.7 billion to a high of $53 billion a year, the authors estimated. They also warned that noticeable economic losses to North American agriculture could well occur in the next 4 to 5 years because of the double-whammy effect of bat losses due to the emerging disease white-nose syndrome and fatalities of certain migratory bats at wind-energy facilities. In the Northeast, however, where white-nose syndrome has killed more than 1 million bats in the past few years, the effects could be evident sooner.