Rodents

The Island of Suwarrow and its surrounding waters was declared a National Park in 1978 under the Conservation Act 1975. The legal opinion sought in 2001 clarifies that Suwarrow is Crown Land. Today, Suwarrow is under the jurisdiction of the National Environment Service (NES) since 2003, for the primary purpose of conserving, preserving, protecting and managing the natural resources of Suwarrow.

To enhance their conservation value, several hundred islands worldwide have been cleared of invasive alien rats, Rattus spp. One of the largest projects yet undertaken was on 43 km2 Henderson Island in the Pitcairn group, South Pacific, in August 2011. Following massive immediate mortality, a single R. exulans was observed in March 2012 and, subsequently, rat numbers have recovered. The survivors show no sign of resistance to the toxicant used, brodifacoum.

Invasive rodents have an overwhelmingly detrimental impact to native flora and fauna on islands. Rodent eradications from islands have led to valuable biodiversity conservation outcomes. Tropical islands present an additional suite of challenges for rat eradications due to unique characteristics associated with these environments. To date tropical island rat eradications have failed at a higher rate than those undertaken outside the tropics. Critical knowledge gaps exist in our understanding of what drives this outcome.

Rat eradications on tropical islands have been less successful than operations in temperate climates. This is likely due to poor understanding of the factors unique to tropical regions that rat populations respond to, such as high numbers of land crabs, aseasonal climates and habitats not found at higher latitudes. On Aldabra Atoll, southern Seychelles, black rats were monitored for one year in three habitats over three climatic seasons to investigate changes in density and breeding to inform planning for a possible rat eradication.

Invasive rats are found on most island groups of the world, and usually more than one species has invaded. On tropical islands populations of different invasive rat species can co-exist on very small islands, but the population dynamics of such co-existing rat species, their impact on each other, and the mechanisms of coexistence are not well known. This lack of knowledge is a barrier to improving the success rate of tropical island rat eradications.

Rodents remain one of the most widespread and damaging invasive alien species on islands globally. The current toolbox for insular rodent eradications is reliant on the application of sufficient anticoagulant toxicant into every potential rodent territory across an island. Despite significant advances in the use of these toxicants over recent decades, numerous situations remain where eradication is challenging or not yet feasible.

Rodent eradications undertaken on tropical islands are more likely to fail than eradications undertaken at higher latitudes. We report on 12 independent rodent eradication projects undertaken on tropical islands that utilized the results of an in situ bait availability study prior to eradication to inform, a priori, the bait application rate selected for the eradication. These projects also monitored bait availability during the eradication.

Invasive mammal eradications are a proven, effective method of restoring damaged ecosystems and preserving biodiversity. On most tropical oceanic islands indigenous land crabs compete with targeted alien species for bait and interfere with traps and detection devices. Current eradication practices are inherited from successful termperate or subantarctic campaigns, yet we do not possess trued and tried methods for managing land crab interference.

Invasive rodents have significant negative impacts on island biodiversity. All but the smallest of rodent eradications currently rely on island-wide rodenticide applications. Although significant advances have been made in mitigating unintended impacts, rodent eradication on inhabited islands remains extremely challenging. Current tools restrict eradication efforts to fewer than 15% of islands with critically endangered or endangered species threatened by invasive rodents.

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.