By Inga Vesper
Every year migratory bats travel from Mexico to Bracken Cave near San Antonio, Tex., where they spend the summer consuming insects that would otherwise devour common food crops. But the bats have been showing up far earlier than they did two decades ago, possibly because of a warming climate, new research suggests.
This trend creates a risky situation in which bats may not find enough food for themselves and their young, as the insects they prey on may not yet have arrived or hatched. If bat colonies shrink as a result of this schedule snafu, their pest control effect could fall out of sync with crop-growing seasons—potentially causing hefty losses, scientists say.
“If the whole system becomes unreliable, then it will be a big, big problem for agriculture,” says Jennifer Krauel, a bat biologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who was not involved in the new research. “I don’t think the bats will go away entirely, but even a reduced colony size will have an effect.”
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