Bats may be scary. But an even scarier post-Halloween thought would be a landscape without bats, because bats are major insect pest controllers.
To combat an epidemic that is decimating bat populations across eastern America, The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee is proposing to build an artificial bat cave. To fund the innovative idea, the Conservancy has entered the proposal in the Pepsi Refresh online grant competition.
Public voting on the idea begins today and continues through the month of November at www.refresheverything.com. If The Nature Conservancy’s idea gains enough public votes, Pepsi will award $250,000 to the environmental nonprofit, enabling it to build and outfit the artificial cave to accommodate hibernating bats.
White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is the disease the Conservancy is fighting. Since its 2006 discovery in upstate New York, WNS has spread to 14 states and killed over 1 million bats. It was detected and confirmed to have spread to Tennessee in February 2010. There is no cure yet, and WNS threatens to render many U.S. bat species extinct.
"WNS is a devastating disease that is hitting bats fast and hard,” said Cory Holliday, Cave and Karst Program Director for The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee. “This artificial cave not only has the potential to save a large colony of bats from WNS, but also to serve as a model that could be replicated anywhere WNS threatens to destroy a significant colony of hibernating bats."
The Nature Conservancy’s proposal calls for building an artificial cave near an existing hibernation cave in Tennessee. The new structure will be underground and will mimic the environment of the nearby natural cave. The artificial cave will be a safe haven for bats to hibernate in during winter. It will also serve as a test site for WNS treatments. Several disinfectants can kill the fungus believed to cause WNS, but they can harm other cave animals. The artificial cave will not house other animals, and it could be disinfected when bats are absent.
“This is the first idea we've come upon that offers bats a real chance at survival without killing the other organisms that call caves home," said Holliday.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.