Big in­vest­ment into mouse re­search

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News -

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.”

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