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Population Density and Home Range Estimates of Black Rat (Rattus rattus) Populations in Southwestern Puerto Rico

  • Author(s): Berentsen, Are R.
  • Torres-Toledo, Fabiola B.
  • Rivera-Rodriguez, Mel J.
  • Davis, Amy
  • Gilbert, Amy T.
  • et al.
Abstract

Black rats are among the world’s most invasive rodent species and are responsible for considerable agricultural losses and risks to human health through zoonotic disease. In Puerto Rico, rats may also compete with the primary rabies reservoir (the small Indian mongoose) for baits during oral rabies vaccination (ORV) programs. We evaluated black rat population density and home range size on the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge, southwestern Puerto Rico. We fitted 10 rats with VHF transmitters and tracked them using radio telemetry for approximately 4 weeks. We entered locations into ArcGIS and obtained minimum convex polygon (MCP) home range estimates. We established two plots of 55 snap traps and performed removal for 5 consecutive days during January and July, to correspond roughly with wet and dry seasons for this region. To calculate abundance, we entered snap trap data using a removal model approach in Program MARK. We calculated the effective trapping area by creating a buffer around the trapping area based on the square root of mean home range estimate. We divided the abundance calculated in MARK by the effective trapping area to calculate the estimated population density. Mean MCP home range estimate was 0.28 ha (SE: 0.05, range: 0.07-0.50 ha). Population density estimates were 114.7 (SE: 201.80) and 19.3 (SE: 6.85) per ha for January and July, respectively. To reduce the potential for rat consumption of ORV baits, wildlife managers should consider conducting ORV activities in Puerto Rico during periods of lower rat abundance or density.

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