Friday, April 1, 2011
White-nose syndrome and wind turbines: why biodiversity matters
Linking ecosystem services to economic benefits is a vital step in connecting ecological research to policy and political action. The UN Environmental Programme’s The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative represents a concerted effort to draw attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity and cost of ecosystem degradation, and to bring together scientists, economists and policy-makers.
Accordingly, Boyles et al. (Nature, 2011) paint a troubling picture about the value of economic benefits that insectivorous bats provide to the North American economy, and the degree of extinction risk they currently face. The authors point out that bats are “among the most overlooked, yet economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America”, and their loss would cost North Americans more than 3.7 billion dollars/year. Given rapid declines in populations due to white-nose syndrome (over 1 million bats killed) and wind turbine fatalities (projected to reach up to 30,000-100,000 fatalities/year as wind turbine installations increase), the authors suggest action can't wait.
Hopefully using the universal language of money helps translate scientific knowledge into political action. After all, bats are only one group of species: imagine the true cost of current rates of biodiversity loss and ecosystem destruction, from the smallest microorganism to the largest megafauna. The total must be staggering. And so, it seems, is the scale of action required to halt this decline.