Rattus rattus

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.

The eradication of some introduced pests such as rats, stoats and possums in New Zealand seems increasingly feasible with successful action to date in various cities (e.g. Wellington City) and with the government’s national 2050 predator-free goal. Here we specifically detail the potential benefits of urban rat eradication and find these cover a wide range of topics including a potentially reduced risk of infection from at least seven zoonotic diseases (e.g. leptospirosis, toxoplasmosis, trichinellosis, murine typhus; and three enteric diseases).

Since 1999, the black rat (Rattus rattus) has been eradicated from 14 Italian islands, and eradication is ongoing on a further five islands. Most projects were funded by the European Union (EU) Life Programme. Over the years, eradication techniques have been improved and adapted to different situations, including aerial bait distribution on islands with large inaccessible areas, which otherwise would have relied on a manual bait distribution.

The Chagos Archipelago comprises some 58 islands covering 5,000 ha in the centre of the Indian Ocean. Black rats (Rattus rattus) were introduced about 230 years ago and have likely had a severe impact on the native terrestrial fauna, which is dominated by seabirds and land crabs. Most of the archipelago’s terrestrial land mass is vegetated with old coconut plantations, with over 75% of the native forest cleared for coconut from 26 of the largest islands.

Invasive black rats (Rattus rattus) were successfully eradicated during 2012 from Pinzon Island in the Galapagos archipelago using the rodenticide brodifacoum. Potential exposure to brodifacoum in Pinzon tortoises (Chelonoidis ephippium), Pinzon lava lizards (Microlophus duncanensis) and Galapagos hawks (Buteo galapagoensis) was mitigated by captive holding of subpopulations. This was successful for all species during and shortly after baiting, however mortality of Galapagos hawks occurred post-release, likely due to the persistence of residual brodifacoum in lava lizards.

The introduction of invasive rats, goats, and rhesus macaques to Desecheo National Wildlife Refuge, Puerto Rico led to the extirpation of regionally signifi cant seabird colonies and negatively impacted plant and endemic reptile species. In 2012, following the successful removal of goats and macaques from Desecheo, an attempt to remove black rats using aerially broadcast rodenticide and bait stations was unsuccessful.

Rat eradication techniques developed in New Zealand are a proven method for removing invasive rodents from islands worldwide. This technology moved rapidly from ground-based bait station operations to aerial application of rodenticides. Rat eradications on tropical islands using similar methods, have not always been as successful as those in temperate regions. As most previous eradications in the Caribbean have been on islands smaller than 50 ha, the eradication of black rats (Rattus rattus) from 207 ha Dog Island was a significant increase in size.

Rodent predation on eggs and chicks is one of the main threats to procellariiform species in the Mediterranean, where the black rat (Rattus rattus) and brown rat (R. norvegicus) have been present on many islands for centuries. The yelkouan shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) is an endemic Mediterranean seabird species classified as vulnerable. Malta holds up to 10% of the global population; the largest colony, Rdum tal-Madonna (RM), protected as a Natura 2000 site, hosts around 500 breeding pairs. This colony has been monitored since its discovery in 1969.

Following the incursion of rats (Rattus rattus) on Taukihepa (Big South Cape Island; 93.9 km²) off southern New Zealand in 1963, and the subsequent extirpation of several endemic species, the New Zealand Wildlife Service realised that, contrary to general belief at the time, introduced predators do not reach a natural balance with native species and that a safe breeding habitat for an increasing number of ‘at risk’ species was urgently needed.

Rat eradication is a highly effective tool for conserving biodiversity, but one that requires considerable planning eff ort, a high level of precision during implementation and carries no guarantee of success. Overall, rates of success are generally high but lower for tropical islands where most biodiversity is at risk. We completed a qualitative comparative review on four successful and four unsuccessful tropical rat eradication projects to better understand the factors influencing the success of tropical rat eradications and shed light on how the risk of future failures can be minimised.