• Can Bats Help Locate Clean Water?

Can Bats Help Locate Clean Water?

May 07 2018 Read 1885 Times

As the population of the world steadily grows, so too does the strain we put upon the Earth’s resources – and so does the detrimental impact we have upon them. Potable water, the most precious resource in existence, is in increasingly short supply in some parts of the world due to the demand that a greater population brings and the pollutant effect it has.

Humans aren’t the only species dependent on water either, of course. Even among desert-adapted animals, water still proves to a vital component of almost all animal diets, so it may be possible to pinpoint sources of clean water by following the movements of other animals who seek it out. According to scientist Theresa Laverty, bats could be a prime example of this.

Using nature to measure pollution

Leveraging the power of the natural world to monitor levels of pollution is hardly a novel idea. For example, fish and other water-dwelling animals can be analysed to determine levels of water pollution; bees and invertebrates can give accurate data about the threat posed by systemic pesticides in crops and other plants. In perhaps the most famous example of all, miners traditionally used canaries to gauge whether air was becoming too contaminated to support life.

According to Laverty, bats could play a similar role in assessing pollution levels in water supplies. Due to their sizable, uninsulated wingspan, bats are susceptible to dehydration and must constantly consume clean water. What’s more, their ability to fly means they can travel significantly further and more quickly in search of water than fish, insects or other water-dwelling animals. As such, monitoring bat activity and health in rural regions could be a viable method of detecting clean water sources.

A more affordable alternative

This knowledge is generally most valuable in the developing world; an estimated 780 million people do not have access to clean drinking water globally. Over 2.5 billion – well over a third of the world’s population – do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of these people reside in impoverished and undeveloped nations in Asia and Africa.

While effective water treatment plants are slowly but surely migrating to the third world, such as with the case of the Ahmadu Bello University community drinking water supply in Nigeria, the technology and the equipment is often not in place in these remote parts and costs too much to implement at the present time. As a result, monitoring the movement of bats could prove to be a highly successful and cost-effective alternative to the problem.

Save the bats to save ourselves

Laverty believes that we must work to safeguard the conservation of these animals, not only for the benefit of their species, but of our own as well. “Bats’ potential as environmental indicators is just the latest reason for studying and conserving these important creatures,” she explains.

“Worldwide, about one-third of bat species are endangered, vulnerable to extinction or “data deficient,” meaning that scientists know too little to make judgments about their status. But with effective protection, monitoring sensitive bat species soon could be a viable way to find clean water in the far reaches of remote deserts – or even the rural United States.”

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