Ship rats

Seabirds are notoriously sensitive to introduced mammalian predators and eradication programs have benefitted seabird populations and their habitats on numerous islands throughout the world. However, less evidence is available from the tropics as to the benefits of rat eradication. Here, we report the seabird recovery and vegetation dynamics on a small coralline island of the tropical western Indian Ocean, eight years after Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) eradication.

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.