Tropical Island Conservation: Rat Eradication for Species Recovery

Having just returned from Fernando de Noronha the plight of tropical islands under attack from invasive species is still at the forefront of my thoughts. Can the techniques we have developed in temperate latitudes on uninhabited islands be applied so readily to inhabited tropical islands?

This was exactly the question that was asked in 2013 when I participated in a rodent eradication review workshop held at the University of Auckland, organised by Island Conservation and hosted by the Pacific Invasives Initiative. Attended by more than 30 experts in the fields of island ecology, rodent ecology and rodent removal from around the globe the workshop goal was to assess current approaches and assumptions in rodent eradications and develop recommendations to improve the success rate of future rodent eradications undertaken on tropical and sub-tropical islands worldwide.

Noddies abound on rat-free islets of Tetiaroa but can we achieve this on other islands? (Photo by James Russell)

The conclusion of the workshop was a resounding “Yes! We can improve the success rate of tropical island rat eradications”, however, it was unanimously agreed that more research was required to help eradication efforts. Some of that research is now available this week in a special issue of the journal Biological Conservation dedicated to tropical island conservation. Ten papers in the issue present cutting edge research on rat biology and management on tropical islands, including determing why rat eradications fail, recommendations for best practice on tropical islands, and future rodent eradication technologies which might be game-changing. Additional field research on invasive rat interactions from important sites such as Tetiaroa are also reported, where we also report this week an extension of the white headed petrels non-breeding range to Tetiaroa.

This special issue will hopefully provide the fuel for a major step-up in eradication of rats from tropical islands. Ultimately, this means we can work towards saving more endangered species faster on islands in the tropics where conservation is most sorely needed. However, my next mission is to the subantarctic Auckland Islands with the Department of Conservation and Navy. With no rats, or sunny weather, it will certainly not be a tropical experience, but pigs, cats and mice have been plaguing this island for too long now.

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Meet the Author
Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.