Rattus exulans

Late is an isolated and uninhabited island located about 55 km WSW of the island of Vava'u, in the Kingdom of Tonga. Late supports a tropical broad-leaf forest ecosystem, one of the most threatened ecosystem types in the world and one of the best remaining tracts of diverse native forest in Tonga. Owing to its relatively unmodified forest communities, Late is also a global stronghold for two IUCN listed species of bird, one native mammal, and six species of reptile.

Rodent eradications in tropical environments are often more challenging and less successful than those in temperate environments. Reduced seasonality and the lack of a defined annual resource pulse influence rodent population dynamics differently than the well-defined annual cycles on temperate islands, so an understanding of rodent ecology and population dynamics is important to maximise the chances of eradication success in the tropics.

Rodent eradications are a useful tool for the restoration of native biodiversity on islands, but occasionally these operations incur non-target mortality. Changes in cereal bait colour could potentially mitigate these impacts but must not compromise the eradication operation. Changing bait colour may reduce mortality of Henderson crakes (Zapornia atra), an endemic globally threatened flightless bird on Henderson Island, Pitcairn Islands, South Pacific Ocean. Crakes had high non-target mortality in a failed 2011 rat eradication operation and consumed fewer blue than green cereal pellets.

Invasive rodents are successful colonists of many ecosystems around the world, and can have very flexible foraging behaviours that lead to differences in spatial ranges and seasonal demography among individuals and islands. Understanding such spatial and temporal information is critical to plan rodent eradication operations, and a detailed examination of an island’s rat population can expand our knowledge about possible variation in behaviour and demography of invasive rats in general.

This essay offers a 25-year overview of eff orts to remove Pacific rats (Rattus exulans) from the four islands of the Pitcairn group. Following the 1991–1992 discovery that rats were severely reducing breeding success of gadfly petrels (Pterodroma spp.), Wildlife Management International proposed eradication. Eradication success was achieved using ground-based baiting on the small atolls of Ducie and Oeno in 1997, and there is now evidence of petrel recovery on Oeno, but two eradication attempts on inhabited Pitcairn (1997 and 1998) failed.

During 10–21 September, quantitative surveys were carried out of birds and flying foxes using the same techniques as applied in earlier surveys, and searches carried out for a rare parrot and lizard. Bird counts showed that the lupe or Pacific imperial-pigeon population has recovered following a decline between 1994 and 2004 though the current hunting rate is considered unsustainable. Miti or Polynesian starling numbers have gradually declined over the period 1994–2012 which is a concern and hard to explain. Rat predation is a possible cause.

Although the term biodiversity emerged from the pool of obscure jargon quite a few years ago, it is still enshrouded with significant ambiguity. At one extreme, some people use it as a loose synonym for nature. At the other extreme, some people reduce biodiversity to simplistic parameters, such as the number of species. Conservation organizations, both private and public, must navigate these waters with great care.

The restoration of the small offshore islands of Nu’utele (108ha) and Nu’ulua (25ha) has long been identified as a priority for biodiversity conservation in Samoa. The first step towards restoration was the aerial spreading of brodifacoum to eradicate Pacific rats (Rattus exulans) in August 2009. Procedures for the eradication followed those used in New Zealand and involved technical experts from that country.

The three most invasive rat species, black or ship rat Rattus rattus, brown or Norway rats, R. norvegicus and Pacific rat, R. exulans have been incrementally introduced to islands as humans have explored the world’s oceans. They have caused serious deleterious effects through predation and competition, and extinction of many species on tropical islands, many of which are biodiversity hotspots. All three rat species are found in virtually all habitat types, including mangrove and arid shrub land.

Introduced rats (Rattus spp.) can affect island vegetation structure and ecosystem functioning, both directly and indirectly (through the reduction of seabird populations). The extent to which structure and function of islands where rats have been eradicated will converge on uninvaded islands remains unclear. We compared three groups of islands in New Zealand: islands never invaded by rats, islands with rats, and islands on which rats have been controlled. Differences between island groups in soil and leaf chemistry and leaf production were largely explained by burrow densities.