New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2019) 43(2): 3370

Diet, population structure and breeding of Rattus rattus L. in South Island beech forest

Research Article
B. Kay Clapperton 1*
Fraser Maddigan 2
Warren Chinn 3
Elaine C. Murphy 3
  1. 56 Margaret Avenue, Havelock North 4130, New Zealand
  2. Pest Control Solutions, Christchurch, New Zealand
  3. Department of Conservation, Private Bag 4715, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

The diet, population structure and breeding of ship rats (Rattus rattus L.) from Fiordland National Park were assessed from measurements and gut sample analysis of 248 rats trapped between March 2009 and March 2010, following a mast beech seedfall. They consumed many lepidopteran larvae but fewer weta and more vegetative plant matter than in other habitats, as well as beech seed. Birds and mice made up only a relatively small proportion of the diet. A lizard was also confirmed as a prey item of R. rattus, for the first time in New Zealand. The population included a high proportion of young rats and females that were breeding at an early age. A high percentage of females in breeding condition in each season, high uterine scar counts and consistent litter sizes throughout the year indicate high fecundity and year-round breeding. This breeding cycle is consistent with an ample food supply being available for rodents promoting a rat population irruption, which in turn may increase the predation pressure on native biodiversity.