Big investment into mouse research
Australia’s largest investment into mouse-related research in the grains industry is about to get underway.
Grains Research and Development Corporation is injecting more than $4.1-million into mouse-control research, development and extension projects in response to increasing numbers of the rodents in key Australian grain-growing regions including the Wimmera and southern Mallee.
GRDC managing director Dr Steve Jefferies said the corporation recognised the enormity of the mouse problem and the severe impact it had on grower businesses and their families, communities and the broader industry.
“The issue with mice has escalated in recent years and we need to improve our understanding as to why that has happened so we can provide growers with innovative and more effective mouse-control options and tactics,” he said.
The new program includes three key investment projects led by CSIRO. The first investment of more than $3.2-million focuses on understanding mouse ecology, biology and management, the second on increasing surveillance and the third on mouse-feeding preferences.
The first investment is designed to provide growers and industry with a greater understanding of the behaviour of mice under no-till and stubble retention systems.
It also aims to quantify the impact of various management tactics, such as strategic tillage, seeding systems, food and habitat reduction, on mouse numbers.
Dr Jefferies said management strategies to control mice had, until now, been based on research involving conventional cropping systems which often incorporated tillage, burning and removal of stubbles, as well as more livestock than was typical of today’s farming systems.
“Our farming systems have changed markedly since then,” he said.
“No-till, stubble retention and in many cases little or no livestock are now the norm in many areas, so we need to know whether these contemporary, conservation-farming practices are now favouring the persistence of mouse populations from one season to the next due to maintenance of year-round habitat, lack of soil disturbance, or whether there are other factors at play.
“We are no longer seeing a plague situation one year, followed by a sudden crash in the population and the absence of mice for extended periods of time thereafter. These days, mice seem to be a constant and our high-yielding crops and heavy stubbles appear to be providing them with an abundance of food and protection.”
Researchers expect to use technology such as in-burrow cameras and radio-tracking devices during the studies to better understand mouse behaviour.
The second key investment of more than $630,000 will expand and extend GRDC’S involvement in national mouse monitoring and surveillance.
The aim is to develop a more precise ‘real-time’ national early warning system for potential plagues and to equip growers with the ability to manage increases in mouse populations to minimise crop losses and reduce economic impacts.
The third key investment commits up to $275,000 to investigate mouse-feeding preferences and bait efficacy.
Broad-scale application of zinc phosphide wheat bait, at the prescribed rate of one kilogram per hectare, is the only method available for growers to control mice in their paddocks. But efficacy of this bait has become an issue.
Dr Jefferies said investment in this area would involve exploring conditions that led to the apparent reduction in attractiveness of zinc phosphide baits and subsequent lower efficacy.
He said the two key questions related to the role of background food availability on baiting efficacy, and whether there were more suitable bait substrates.
“It appears mice have an aversion to the wheat-based bait in some situations,” Dr Jefferies said.
“This could be due to the availability of more appealing alternative food sources, such as barley and pulses, so the GRDC and its research partners will be endeavouring to determine if this is in fact the case.
“Researchers will also be investigating whether mice stockpile non-baited grain and other food sources in order to survive, and if so the research will aim to determine the optimum time to bait to overcome this mouse survival technique.”