Study to seek answers to rat catch rates

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Babbling brooks, bugs, and bush are some of the elements examined for a new research project involving rats.

The project challenges pupils from local schools in Wanaka and Makarora to answer the question
— ‘‘Why do some rat traps catch more rats?’’.

The project is run by the Central Otago Lakes Branch of Forest & Bird, as well as staff and students from the University of Otago Wildlife Management Programme.

Central Otago Lakes Branch chairman Ben Goddard said it was a question they had been wondering for some time.
‘‘Everyone has their own ideas about what factors will contribute to why some traps may have certain catch rates and other don’t.’’

Forest & Bird had run a trapping programme for about 20 years using about 400-500 traps in the Makarora area of Mount Aspiring National Park.

One theory a trapper proposed was vegetation or other elements in the surrounding terrain could affect trap rates, but there was no research to back that theory.
‘‘So, essentially, this study is just trying to experiment with that and test some hypotheses and see what comes out.’’

Traps were be placed in a spaced line along an area of forest in the Makarora around the Blue Pools area.
Depending on the time of year about 40 volunteers visited once a week or once a month to clear traps.

The most common type of bait was rabbit bait pellets or leftover eggs. However, the type of bait did not seem to make a difference to the variation in trap catch rates.
‘‘It won’t be consistent across each of the traps on each of the lines.’’

One trap might have about two dozen rats every time they went to clear it ‘‘but then one right next to it won’t get any at all’’.

Pupils from Makarora Primary School, Haast School and Mount Aspiring College would take part in the project, including ‘‘practical hands-on experience’’ of trapping, Mr Goddard said.
He hoped the pupils would come away with ideas they could use to help improve trapping for home-based and local trapping efforts.

The community drive project has been given funding of $18,581 by the Otago Participatory Science Platform.

Co-ordinator Dr Claire Concannon said the results of the project would be important for many trapping communities across the country.

It was an ‘‘excellent opportunity’,’ because the Central Otago Lakes Branch of Forest & Bird would be able to use their data to ‘‘really narrow in’’ on what factors affect its trapping rates.