Published: 31 January 2014 at 12:55
Anglia Ruskin student conducts research for pioneering project
A rat on the Isle of Rum is being tagged and its travels round the island logged via satellite in one of the first projects of its kind anywhere in the world.
Researchers on Rum National Nature Reserve (NNR) are keen to move closer to understanding brown rat behaviour on nearby colonies of the Manx shearwater seabird. The work will be carried out by Sean Carlisle, a PhD researcher from Anglia Ruskin University.
Rum is owned and managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). The island is home to around a quarter of the world’s breeding population of Manx shearwaters.
From April until September the Rum Cuillin comes alive after dark with the sound of these amazing birds, no bigger than pigeons, returning to their breeding burrows after spending the winter off the east coast of South America. They are a migratory marvel, sometimes reaching the seas around the Falkland Islands before returning to Rum by way of the African coast – a round trip of more than 13,000 miles.
On Rum, they nest in burrows high in the mountains, fishing by day and returning to their nests at night.
Brown rats are recent colonists to the island and probably arrived on boats. They have an adverse effect on native species and the study will examine the significance of the Rum rats on the globally important Rum shearwater population.
Under the work one pioneering rodent has been fitted with a rat global positioning system (GPS) to track its movements over the coming weeks. It is hoped results will be in by the end of February.
Understanding rat behaviour is vital to assess their likely impacts on Manx shearwaters and other species, as Lesley Watt, the SNH Rum reserve officer, explained:
The rat-related work is part of a three-year Magnus Magnusson PhD studentship, funded by SNH and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). Anglia Ruskin University is carrying out the work with the National Wildlife Management Centre, part of the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).
Early data suggests rat numbers in the Rum shearwater colony are low, which should be reflected in predation levels. More information is needed before proper analysis can be highlighted.
Mark Lambert, the PhD supervisor from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, said:
Sean Carlisle, the Anglia Ruskin PhD student conducting the research, said: