Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Diet of the black rat (Rattus rattus) in a Canary Laurel forest: species identification based on morphological markers and DNA sequences.

Abstract

The black rat (Rattus rattus) is an alien species that causes severe impact on island ecosystems, floras and faunas. The main aim of this study was to determine the plant and animal contributions to black rat diet in a pristine misty laurel forest area on La Palma (Canary Islands). Our working hypothesis was that this rat equally consumes plants and animals (fully omnivorous animal) wherever it is introduced, including pristine habitats. A total of 483 droppings collected from the terrain were first morphologically examined using a stereomicroscope, which showed high plant consumption (presence in 92.4% of droppings), followed by invertebrates (46.0%) and vertebrates (31.2%). DNA-based analyses revealed even higher proportions of plants (97%) and invertebrates (79%), while fine-scale sequence searches (DNA barcoding) in the GenBank (BLAST tool) provided a preliminary identification of 44 plants and 12 invertebrate taxa. To gain more in-depth insight into plant identification, we built up a local DNA reference collection (58 species), improving accuracy (30 species confirmed) compared to GenBank searches (25 species). Contingency analyses (chi-square and G-test) only showed significant differences in droppings between plant sequences and toxic plant presence. This study confirms that the black rat is here an omnivorous animal but with a strong plant diet component, including an intriguingly high number of toxic plants. Interestingly, despite rodents chewing on fruits and usually crushing seeds, 66 intact Rubus seeds (Rosaceae) were found in 15 droppings (3.1%). All these results suggest that black rats consume any plant types, including fruits and seeds that can be locally dispersed such as native brambles.