Context. Rattus tanezumi (the Asian house rat) is the principal rodent pest of rice and coconut crops in the Philippines. Little is known about the population and breeding ecology of R. tanezumi in complex agroecosystems; thus, current methods of rodent control may be inappropriate or poorly implemented.
Aims. To investigate the habitat use, population dynamics and breeding biology of R. tanezumi in complex lowland agroecosystems of the Sierra Madre Biodiversity Corridor, Luzon, and to develop ecologically based rodent management (EBRM) strategies that will target specific habitats at specific times to improve cost-efficiency and minimise non-target risks.
Methods. An 18-month trapping study was conducted in rice monoculture, rice adjacent to coconut, coconut groves, coconut-based agroforest and forest habitats. Trapped animals were measured, marked and assessed for breeding condition.
Key results. Five species of rodent were captured across all habitats with R. tanezumi the major pest species in both the rice and coconut crops. The stage of the rice crop was a major factor influencing the habitat use and breeding biology of R. tanezumi. In rice fields, R. tanezumi abundance was highest during the tillering to ripening stages of the rice crop and lowest during the seedling stage, whereas in coconut groves abundance was highest from the seedling to tillering stage of nearby rice crops. Peaks in breeding activity occurred from the booting stage of the rice crop until just after harvest, but >10% of females were in breeding condition at each month of the year.
Conclusions. In contrast with the practices applied by rice farmers in the study region, the most effective time for lethal management based on the breeding ecology of R. tanezumi is likely to be during the early stages of the rice crop, before the booting stage. Farmers generally apply control actions as individuals. We recommend coordinated community action. Continuous breeding throughout the year may necessitate two community campaigns per rice cropping season. To limit population growth, the most effective time to reduce nesting habitat is from the booting stage until harvest.
Implications. By adopting EBRM strategies, we expect a reduction in costs associated with rodent control, as well as improved yield and reduced risk to non-target species.