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Front. Ecol. Evol. | doi: 10.3389/fevo.2018.00189

Public Complaints Reflect Rat Relative Abundance across Diverse Urban Neighborhoods

  • 1Urban Wildlife Institute, Lincoln Park Zoo, United States
  • 2Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Lincoln Park Zoo, United States
  • 3Landmark Pest Management, United States
  • 4Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada
  • 5Animal Health Centre, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, Canada

Preventing infestations of rats is crucial for minimizing property damage and the transmission of rat-associated pathogens to humans. Due to the logistical challenges in assessing rat abundance over large areas, public officials must often use the number of public rat complaints to estimate the relative abundance of rats and the subsequent need for rodent control. However, the likelihood of reporting complaints may be driven by socioeconomic factors and therefore may not accurately reflect rat abundance. In this study, we tested whether the number of rat complaints reflect rat relative abundance and if rat complaints and abundance are higher in alleys with greater levels of harborage, food attractants, and poor structural integrity. We conducted this study in Chicago, IL, USA where public rat complaints have risen by 39% from 2008 up to 45,887 in 2017, and where socioeconomic factors vary considerably across neighborhoods. We assessed municipal rat complaints, census data, and land cover data for 77 community areas across Chicago. In collaboration with pest management professionals, we trapped brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) in alleys in 13 community areas that varied from low to high measures of household income and urban development. At trapping sites, we recorded signs of rat activity, attractants, and infrastructure condition. Based on candidate model comparisons using linear models, we found that rat complaints were most associated with rat trap success. Rat trap success was most associated with increasing complaints, percent of rented housing units, and decreasing vacant land. At a local scale, alleys with more complaints and higher trap success also had more uncontained garbage. Our results demonstrate that, at least in Chicago, public reporting can serve as a useful tool to identify areas of greater rat activity for targeted control efforts. Our study also suggests the need for habitat modification to minimize access to attractants. Finally, our results highlight how partnerships between researchers and private practitioners can facilitate large-scale projects on rat infestation risks in urban areas.

Keywords: Brown rat, Urban wildlife, Rodent abundance, Rodent Control, Public complaints, Alley

Received: 27 Aug 2018; Accepted: 29 Oct 2018.

Edited by:

Dr. Michael H. Parsons, Department of Biological Sciences, Fordham University, United States

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Richardson, Providence College, United States
James E. Childs, Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Murray, Fyffe, Fidino, Byers, Rios, Mulligan and Magle. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Maureen H. Murray, Lincoln Park Zoo, Urban Wildlife Institute, Chicago, United States, maureenmurray@lpzoo.org