We know so little about life in the night sky, and animals aloft can affect us in ways we’re only beginning to understand. That’s why aeroecology conservation is so important. Insect numbers are declining alarmingly across the planet, which is also bad news for the bats and birds who rely on them. We aren’t really sure why this is happening, but here are some of the threats and what you can do:
Light pollution: Artificial light harms many animals adapted to living in the night sky. Light pollution harms people but can also kill animals. It is also likely one of the main causes of the alarming global decline in insect diversity and abundance.
Wind energy: Alternative energy sources are crucial for combatting climate change. But the rapidly increasing deployment of wind turbines has a serious downside: current technology is deadly for bats and birds. There is also evidence that turbines attract insects, making them even more lethal for aerial insectivores.
Habitat loss and degradation: Even though they spend much of their lives aloft, animals in the night sky also depend on resources at ground level. Loss or damage to caves or forests for bats or specific host plants for insects can mean harm to young or even local extinctions. Without knowing more about the needs of migratory insects and bats, it is very difficult to effectively conserve important habitat.
Disease: A relatively new fungus introduced to the US from Europe is responsible for alarming mortality in North American bats. White-nose syndrome (WNS) attacks hibernating bats and can kill 90% of a colony or more. Affected bats include regional migratory bats such as the Indiana and long-eared bats, and we’re losing the bats before we can learn about their migration.
Pesticide and fertilizer use: Widespread pesticide use may also contribute to the global decline in insects, and reduced food for birds and bats. Even common insects face the threat. The pesticide linked to bee decline, neonictinoids, has been linked to declines of bird populations. It’s not just pesticides, either: excess use of nitrogen for fertilization leads to the decline of plant species important as insect host plants.
Ignorance: Sometimes the threat comes simply from ignorance. People afraid of bats wipe out entire roosts without realizing they are losing valuable pest-control services. The bright lights of the Tribute in Light memorial in New York City were not designed to attract migratory animals. Efforts to foster education, even as simple as sharing the information documented on this web site, are an important step.
What can we do about these threats? In most cases, what’s urgently needed is further research. There are some organizations that can help you take other action: Bat Conservation International is a good source of information about threats to bats. For insect conservation, try the Xerces Society. The Dark Sky Association combats light pollution. If you know about other efforts I can help to promote, please let me know.
Questions? Comments? There’s more information in the blog entries below, but please feel free to start a conversation with me on Twitter: Tweet to @batgrrl