The Knock-On Effects of Rats on Island Ecosystems

Rats exact a punishing toll on island seabird colonies, decimating their numbers as they eat the birds’ eggs and young. Research has shown that fewer birds, and fewer bird droppings, mean that ecosystems on these islands don’t have the same diversity and quantity of life. But until now, our understanding of the impact that rats have has stopped at the island’s edge.

“What people haven’t really captured is how that then affects adjacent marine ecosystems,” said Nick Graham, a marine ecologist at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom.

Graham is the lead author of a study published July 11th in the journal Nature, in which he and his colleagues demonstrate that coral reefs next to rat-infested islands aren’t as healthy as reefs near rat-free islands. He presented the team’s research on July 10th at the European Open Science Forum 2018 in Toulouse, France.

“These rats are having a knock-on effect to the adjacent coral reef system,” Graham said, “and that’s never been shown before.”


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