Context. Introduced rats (Rattus spp.) can pose a serious threat to native flora and fauna, especially on islands where most species have evolved in the absence of terrestrial predators. Effective detection and eradication methods for introduced rats are essential to the maintenance of insular ecosystem integrity. Thus, it is important to better understand the behaviour of rats when they first arrive in a new setting.
Aims. To determine whether rats would find some novel stimuli to be significantly more attractive than other novel stimuli.
Methods. An eight-arm radial maze was used to study the behaviour of three species of Rattus finding themselves in a novel environment with various familiar and unfamiliar stimuli.
Key results. Although there were some differences in responses by species and by sex, most rats sought out and spent considerable time in the den box, suggesting an immediate need for security when in an unfamiliar setting. Rats also sought out faeces of conspecifics, suggesting the need for social contact or reproduction. The rats, which had not been food deprived, did not seem interested in food sources, although there was some attraction to the water source.
Implications. The management implications of the present study’s results are two-fold. First, appears that detection of newly arriving rats on islands would be aided by strategic placement of den boxes that are highly acceptable to rats. Managers could then inspect the den boxes periodically (or use a remote sensing system) for evidence of rat presence. Second, the den boxes could be scented with the faeces of other rats to further attract invading rats to the den boxes. This protocol might also hold the rats near the invasion site for a longer period of time before they begin seeking other shelter, food sources or mates. These protocols could give managers increased opportunities to detect any newly invading rats, and potentially increase the available time to deploy a rapid response to the invasion, before the animals begin to widely disperse. Of course, the rats will ultimately seek a source of palatable food, so placing durable, yet palatable, rodenticide bait in the den boxes might further decrease the probability of the invaders establishing a self-sustaining population.
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