coral reef with yellow and blue fish
Rat Infestation Takes a Toll on Nearby Coral Reefs

Rat Infestation Takes a Toll on Nearby Coral Reefs

A study shows that by killing off seabirds on islands, rodents slash the flow of nutrients into the ocean.

Shawna Williams
Shawna Williams

Shawna joined The Scientist in 2017 and is now a senior editor and news director. She holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Colorado College and a graduate certificate and science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Jul 12, 2018

When humans set forth on the seas to explore new lands, they often bring with them unintended stowaways: rats. If the animals gain a foothold on an island, they can devastate local fauna. And a study published yesterday (July 11) in Nature finds that the rodents’ destruction extends into the seas surrounding islands, starving the ecosystems around coral reefs of nutrients.

“The depth of this research shows just how much ecosystems impacted by invasive rats have to lose,” Holly Jones of Northern Illinois University who was not involved in the study tells The Atlantic

In the study, researchers compared six rat-infested islands in the Indian Ocean with six nearby islands that are rat-free. Soil and plants on the rat-free islands had more of a nitrogen isotope that’s common in marine food sources, which birds commonly consume and then poop out on islands. The research team also found...

“This is one of the clearest examples so far, where eradicating rats will lead to increased numbers of seabirds and this will bolster the coral reef,” coauthor Nick Graham of Lancaster University in the U.K. tells the BBC.

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