New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2011) 35(2): 132- 144

Improved design method for biosecurity surveillance and early detection of non-indigenous rats

Review Article
Frith C. Jarrad 1,2*
Susan Barrett 1,2
Justine Murray 1,2
John Parkes 3,4
Richard Stoklosa 5
Kerrie Mengersen 1,2
Peter Whittle 1,2
  1. Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity, LPO Box 5012, Bruce, ACT 2617, Australia
  2. School of Mathematical Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Gardens Point Campus, PO Box 2434, Brisbane, QLD 4001, Australia
  3. Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, University of Canberra, Kirinari St, Bruce, ACT 2617, Australia
  4. Landcare Research, PO Box 40, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand
  5. Chevron Australia Pty Ltd, 250 St Georges Tce, Perth, WA 6000, Australia
*  Corresponding author

A recent advance in biosecurity surveillance design aims to benefit island conservation through early and improved detection of incursions by non-indigenous species. The novel aspects of the design are that it achieves a specified power of detection in a cost-managed system, while acknowledging heterogeneity of risk in the study area and stratifying the area to target surveillance deployment. The design also utilises a variety of surveillance system components, such as formal scientific surveys, trapping methods, and incidental sightings by non-biologist observers. These advances in design were applied to black rats (Rattus rattus) representing the group of invasive rats including R. norvegicus, and R. exulans, which are potential threats to Barrow Island, Australia, a high value conservation nature reserve where a proposed liquefied natural gas development is a potential source of incursions. Rats are important to consider as they are prevalent invaders worldwide, difficult to detect early when present in low numbers, and able to spread and establish relatively quickly after arrival. The ‘exemplar’ design for the black rat is then applied in a manner that enables the detection of a range of non-indigenous species of rat that could potentially be introduced. Many of the design decisions were based on expert opinion as data gaps exist in empirical data. The surveillance system was able to take into account factors such as collateral effects on native species, the availability of limited resources on an offshore island, financial costs, demands on expertise and other logistical constraints. We demonstrate the flexibility and robustness of the surveillance system and discuss how it could be updated as empirical data are collected to supplement expert opinion and provide a basis for adaptive management. Overall, the surveillance system promotes an efficient use of resources while providing defined power to detect early rat incursions, translating to reduced environmental, resourcing and financial costs.