Want to save an island’s coral reefs? Get rid of invasive rats

The stark surface of Redonda Island is turning green again.

Enlarge / The stark surface of Redonda Island is turning green again. (credit: Invertzoo)

Hundreds of years ago, Europeans were sailing the globe and “discovering” new parcels of land—and rats came along with them as stowaways. As crews made landfall on many islands, rats hopped off and made themselves new homes.

The rats prospered, out-competing, eating, or otherwise driving off native species, and fragile island ecosystems suffered. However, new research suggests that these remote, isolated ecosystems can bounce back relatively quickly after conservation groups eliminate the rats, a practice that is becoming increasingly common. And the changes caused by the rats’ removal are even felt in offshore ecosystems.

Rats actually harm coral

Rats are not picky when it comes to food. They’ll happily chow down on fruit, seeds, nuts, insects, and almost anything else they can stomach. This has a notable impact on the islands’ terrestrial habitats. But in a stark yet roundabout way, rats also harm marine habitats.

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