The effect of habitat management on home-range size and survival of rural Norway rat populations.
Norway rat Rattus norvegicus populations are usually controlled with toxic baits, but this approach is increasingly recognized as having negative welfare and environmental impacts. An integrated strategy that relies less on rodenticides is therefore required. Here we investigate the possibility of using a resource-based approach to rat population management. Structurally complex habitats provide rat populations with nest sites and opportunities to avoid predators; modifying habitats to reduce structural complexity might reduce their potential to support rat populations. As part of an integrated approach, this could be more sustainable than relying exclusively on lethal control. However, in order to target habitat management efforts most effectively with minimum impact on other species, an understanding of habitat utilization by Norway rats is required. In this study, rat populations on farms in the north-east of England were monitored by radio-tracking and population counts before and after a single phase of habitat modification. Rats living near farm buildings utilized areas with high levels of cover; habitat modification reduced the survival rate and size of these rat populations. Rats living in field margins also preferred areas with high levels of cover, but they had significantly bigger home ranges than rats living near farm buildings and were largely unaffected by small-scale habitat management. Synthesis and applications. Our results indicate that habitat management near farm buildings has the potential to reduce the size of rat populations. As part of an integrated approach, this technique offers a way of reducing reliance on rodenticides. Habitat use by rats within the wider farm landscape suggests that land management practices have the potential to influence the size and distribution of rat populations; many game-rearing practices and environmental policies designed to create habitats for 'desirable' farm wildlife, inadvertently create desirable habitats for rats.