Date of this Version
Caribbean Naturalist No. 48:1-14
Invasive rodents, particularly rats (Rattus spp.), occupy >80% of the world’s islands and are among the greatest threats to native biodiversity and agriculture on islands. At the time of their introduction in the 1500s, there was at least 1 native rat species in Puerto Rico. Today there are no native rodents remaining in Puerto Rico, but R. norvegicus (Norway Rat) may be found in urban settings, and R. rattus (Black Rat) are the most common rat across the island including within natural areas, and invasive Mus musculus (House Mouse) may also be found in urban and non-urban habitats. The Caribbean National Forest (CNF; locally El Yunque) in northeastern Puerto Rico has some native and endangered species vulnerable to rat predation. The objective of our study was to determine the presence and distribution of invasive rodents (rats and mice) across elevations and habitats within the CNF. We used 104 tracking tunnels, which are baited ink cards placed in tunnels so that foot prints of animal visitors could be identified, to determine presence of invasive rodent species. We placed 3 tracking tunnels at each 50-m elevation-gain (n = 66 total tunnels), on the edge of forest habitat from sea level to 1070 m at El Yunque peak along the main road (Highway 191) through the CNF. We established additional tracking tunnels (n = 38) in the major habitats in the CNF, including treefall and hurricane gaps, landslides, stream edges, and continuous forest. House Mice had not been previously reported in the CNF, and were found only at the forest edge along Highway 191 at elevations of 50–150 m and 300–1070 m, whereas rats (Rattus sp.) were found at all elevations and in all habitat types sampled. Logistic regressions revealed that mice and rat presence each increases with elevation (mice: P = 0.0352, rat: P = 0.0019), though total rodent presence did not. Knowledge of the habitat types and elevations that these invasive rodents occupy can inform management strategies for rodent control and native species protection.