Wanted – pied pipers for New Zealand

By - Wayne Linklater 06/04/2013

The Pied Piper RatsLures have been critical to the control of New Zealand’ introduced mammalian pests.  Convincing a mammal, like a rat, to visit or enter a trap and behave in ways that trigger its lethal mechanism has depended largely on food lures – aniseed, chocolate, peanut butter, eggs, meat and many more.

Peanut ButterBut the power of food lures is limited. They are not attractive enough for all animals all the time. Some animals are disinterested or less motivated by food. Food lures are also seldom attractive enough to draw animals from substantial distances, such as out of the ranges in which they live. Thus, traps largely capture just animals living locally. Food lures also decay quickly to become unattractive.

All these limitations make food lures unsuitable as tools for eradication or biosecurity – the ‘holy grail’ of a pest free New Zealand. The landscape must be saturated with food-lure traps if there is any hope of a substantial reduction in the pest population or to detect invaders. The physical labour and time to distribute and service the enormous number of traps required, especially across New Zealand’s broken topography, is prohibitively expensive.  

In December last year, at the Department of Conservation’s Pest Summit, a forum of 50 scientists and biodiversity managers agreed that the development of super-lures should be a research priority – lures that are so attractive that no animal is immune and will travel from their homes from far-and-wide to investigate and trigger a trap.   

New Zealand’s biodiversity would be better protected, and the restoration of its indigenous ecology made possible, across greater swathes of our magnificent landscape if we could develop super-lures. for mammals. 

front of bookletThis Monday the Centre for Biodiversity & Restoration Ecology at Victoria University is hosting a symposium bringing researchers from across New Zealand to foster a search for super-lures that will, necessarily, require collaborative inter-disciplinary research across several institutions. The symposium titled “In search of super-lures: mammalian communication and pest control” is bringing scientists from Connovation Ltd, Goodnature LtdPlant & Food Research, Landcare Research, Department of Conservation, and Auckland, Lincoln and Victoria Universities together to present their work and plan for the future.

Professor Jane Hurst from the Centre for Integrative Biology at Liverpool University, and Associate Prof. Peter Banks from the Behavioural Ecology & Conservation Research Group at Sydney University, also accepted invitations to make plenary presentations of their research  – research which we think has important lessons for New Zealand’s search for super-lures.

From molecules, animal physiology and behaviour, to the ecology of landscapes, the search of super-lures is gathering pace.

What progress has already been made?

What still needs to be done?

What innovations might be possible?

Watch this space.