Mammalian pheromones - new opportunities for improved predator control in New Zealand.
To improve conservation outcomes and move towards a 'predator-free New Zealand', we need new pest control technologies. Our growing knowledge of the chemistry, behaviour and neuroendocrinology of mammalian scents that affect other individuals (semiochemicals) provides an opportunity for these to be used in various ways to help to control pest species. In this report, we summarise current knowledge of attractant semiochemicals (pheromones) of rodents, mustelids, cats and possums in New Zealand, to find potential avenues for the development of lures and other control strategies. Putative pheromones have been identified in all these species, and the major urinary proteins (MUPs) and peptides derived from the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) have been shown to play a role as pheromone carriers in the house mouse (Mus musculus), Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) and ship rat (R. rattus). In addition, attractant compounds have been identified in the urine and glands of cats (Felis catus), mustelids (stoats - Mustela erminea, weasels - M. nivalis and ferrets - M. furo) and brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), and the calming effect of the feline facial pheromone has been explored. There are several potential applications for pheromones in mammalian pest management, including in trap and lure-and-kill systems; toxic baits; immunocontraception or chemosterilisation delivery systems; monitoring for incursions; interruption of breeding behaviour; and enhancement of biological control. The learned component of responses to pheromones and the role of MUPs in that learning suggest a complex system and it is unlikely that there will be a single 'magic bullet' solution for all pest species, but some potential for inter-species attractants. The use of novel control strategies based on a sound understanding of animal behaviour and neurophysiology could see pheromones and MUPs being combined to help improve predator control in New Zealand.