Field work is now under way to try to understand the ranging behaviour of domestic predators of rodents such as dogs and cats. Domestic animals are being collared with devices that track their movements which will allow us to understand how much time of dogs and cats is spent around homesteads, agricultural areas and other habitats such as grazing land or bush land. The device stores information and must be recovered to download the information, which could be a challenge if animals go missing or become uncooperative.
A new collaboration between the EcoRodMan team at University of Venda and the University of Sydney, Australia is carrying out research to look at the impact of personality on rodent behaviour, particularly personality traits and risk-taking behaviours of rodents exposed to the predation risk of domestic carnivores. As potential predators of rodents, domestic cats and dogs present rodents with a landscape of fear, and their presence may be utilised in rural properties and villages to aid in reducing the damage to crops and housing structures caused by pest rodent species. However, within any given population, individual animals will differ consistently in behavioural expressions, i.e. personality. Bolder or more active individuals take risks in their environment, often gaining foraging and breeding advantages, but frequently experience higher predation rates compared to shyer or less active animals. The presence of cats and dogs may therefore be less effective in deterring these bolder personality types. Mastomys natalensis and Rattus rattus are being trapped in three types of properties in a semi-rural village: those with cats, those with dogs and properties without no potential predators (control). Individual rodents are tested for personality traits using rapid assays before being uniquely marked for identification and released. Cameras placed in each property will allow for identification of individuals and film rodent behaviours at a foraging station. Videos will allow us to determine how personality traits affects risk-taking behaviours of rodents exposed to different predation threats. We hypothesise that cats and dogs will effectively deter the majority of a population and fewer animals will be detected in these areas compared to the control properties. We also hypothesise that animals that are detected in properties with cats and dogs will be bolder individuals, willing to take risks, despite the potential predation risk.
Mastomys natalensis, one of the rodent species being studied for personality traits
Rattus rattus, one of the rodent species being studied for personality traits
The EcoRodMan team had a very successful first year annual review and planning meeting. The meeting was held on the shores of Lake Victoria in Entebbe, Uganda and hosted by Busitema University. The team reviewed activities from the past year and developed research protocols for new field work activities. The project team has made good progress over the first year, with activities taking place across all workpackages.
The EcoRodMan team took part in a World Health Organisation Expert Meeting in Peru entitled ‘Innovative control approaches for rodent-borne epidemic diseases and other public health consequences of rodents’ proliferation’. Prof Belmain provided a keynote overview about the impact of rodents on people's livelihoods. The EcoRodMan team plans to work closely with this WHO initiative to develop new guidelines and training materials to assist countries to prevent disease outbreaks caused by rats.
Researchers from the EcoRodMan team gather together for a special Mini-symposium on Rodents From Challenging Environments and a training workshop for students and early career researchers on Advances in Morphometrics, both of which were partly sponsored by the EcoRodMan project. The events brought together scientists from EcoRodMan partners in Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland along with researchers from Kenya, Zambia, Cameroon, Canada and France. The book of abstracts from the mini-symposium can be found here.
The EcoRodMan team in Ethiopia at Mekelle University has been busy evaluating indigenous knowledge on the use of plants against rodent pests. The team have been working with plant species identified by local communities which are claimed to repel or kill rodents. Through a series of trials carried out in the field and in the laboratory, rats are being monitored using camera traps to see whether they eat bait incorporating the plants as well as monitoring rodent behaviour.
The EcoRodMan team in Tanzania prepares for the agricultural season by holding meetings with smallholder farming communities that will be involved in the evaluation of fertility control products.
The Swaziland team (country now known as eSwatini) erects owl boxes on smallholder maize farms. The sites will be monitored for occupations by owls and once enough of the boxes have resident owls in them, studies of their impact on rodents and crop damage will begin.
Attracting owls to farming areas can be facilitated by providing nesting sites, and EcoRodMan colleagues at the University of Swaziland have been building owl boxes as part of project research to understand the potential ecosystem services of natural predation. Mnqobi Mamba, who is a recent MSc graduate from the University of Swaziland, has nearly completed the construction of 30 owl boxes which will be deployed in smallholder farming communities in advance of the next maize cropping season. Our expectation is that a significant number of the nesting sites are occupied by barn owls, enabling the research team to understand more about the foraging behaviour of owls and rodents, particularly how rodents behaviourally respond to the presense of owls which should be increasing the landscape of fear for pest rodent species.
The 6th International Conference on Rodent Biology and Management took place in Potsdam, Germany. The EcoRodMan team had a big presence at the meeting with more than 30 presentations made by various members of the team. The book of abstracts from the conference provides more details.
EcoRodMan colleague Dr Moses Isabirye from Busitema University, Uganda asking PhD student Christopher Imakando from the Univerity of Greenwich, UK about his thesis research on rodents in Zambia
EcoRodMan colleague Dr Seth Eiseb from the University of Namibia explaining research on rodent population dynamics in smallholder farming systems in Namibia
The EcoRodMan project collaborates with the RatTech project to deliver a training workshop at the Pest Management Centre, Sokoine University of Agricutlure with 30 new PhD students from Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, DR Congo, Nigeria and Kenya. The workshop is led by Prof Steve Belmain from the Natural Resources Institute, UK and covers topics on ecological research methods, and scientific skills such as how to make a scientific presentation, tips and guidelines for writing peer-reviewed papers and grant proposals.
During the workshop, the rodent team met with the British High Commissioner to Tanzania, Ms Sarah Cooke, who was visiting the rodent team based at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania. Ms Cooke was interested in hearing about the new World Bank funded African Centre of Excellence on Rodent Management and Biosensor Technology as well as the long term collaborations between NRI and the Pest Management Centre at Sokoine University of Agriculture, particularly recent UK funding through the DFID - UK Department for International Development AgriTT programme which funded research on the development of rodent fertility control. This initial research on fertility control is being expanded in the EcoRodMan project. Ms Cooke had a tour of rodent training facilities where African giant rats are being trained to detect tuberculosis in human sputum samples.
Finally, the EcoRodMan team met with research colleagues from the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, who were visiting Tanzania for the first time. Prof Zhibin Zhang’s team carried out the first research on the development of rodent fertility control and were visiting the team as part of Chinese funded research to enable further activities that will lead to the registration and commercialisation of a fertility control product in Tanzania that can help regulate rodent population outbreaks. The team visited the village of Berega where rodent capture-mark-recapture trapping grids are evaluating rodent population densities after contraceptive baits have been placed in farmers’ maize fields.
First announcement for the 13th African Small Mammal Symposium, which will be hosted by EcoRodMan partner Yonas Meheretu at Mekelle University in Ethiopia, 16-21 September 2019.
The EcoRodMan team assembles in London for the project launch meeting at the University of Greenwich. Detailed plans for activities are discussed, with protocols developed and agreed.
The EcoRodMan project is officially selected and awarded a three year contract by the African Union to carry out research on ecologically based rodent pest management.