Diagnosing and responding to causes of failure to eradicate invasive rodents

  • Peter J. KappesEmail author
  • Alexander L. Bond
  • James C. Russell
  • Ross M. Wanless
Perspectives and paradigms


Eradicating invasive rodents from islands is a common and powerful tool for conserving and restoring island ecosystems and populations. However, a variety of practical and ecological factors make rodent eradications susceptible to several different types of failure. If an eradication operation is not successful, we are faced with many difficult decisions on how best to proceed, particularly whether to continue actions or to wait before attempting eradication again. We can pro-actively prepare for the possibility of failure by developing failure response plans during the operational planning stages. A well-developed failure response plan includes data collection processes necessary to identify correctly the type of failure: (1) an incomplete eradication effort, (2) eradication effort complete, but individuals survived, or (3) rapid recolonization resulting from a breach of biosecurity measures. Data are also needed to meet pre-determined criteria to inform the decision when to reattempt eradication efforts, should an eradication fail. We provide a general conceptual framework for implementing failure response plans as a means of focusing limited conservation resources by expediently identifying the type of failure, reducing monitoring time-lines to determine if an eradication failed, identifying targets for when follow-up eradication efforts will be most successful, and if appropriate, modifying and updating biosecurity measures. Adopting this approach to pre-empt rodent eradication failures allows the island restoration community to maximize learning, base decision criteria on scientific evidence, and create a transparent decision-making process, thereby improving future eradication efforts.


Best practice Contingency planning Island conservation Invasive species 



We thank J. Hall, S. Oppel, S. Siers, K. Springer, C. Stringer, B. Keitt, an anonymous reviewer, and members of the spring 2017 FW599 manuscript preparation course at Oregon State University for review and comments that improved earlier versions of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

10530_2019_1976_MOESM1_ESM.jpg (3.2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (JPEG 3285 kb)


  1. Abdelkrim J, Pascal M, Calmet C et al (2005) Importance of assessing population genetic structure before eradication of invasive species: examples from insular Norway rat populations. Conserv Biol 19:1509–1518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amos W, Nichols HJ, Churchyard T et al (2016) Rat eradication comes within a whisker! A case study of a failed project from the South Pacific. R Soc Open Sci 3:10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armstrong DP, Castro I, Griffiths R (2007) Using adaptive management to determine requirements of re-introduced populations: the case of the New Zealand hihi. J Appl Ecol 44:953–962CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Atkinson IAE (1985) The spread of commensal species of Rattus to oceanic islands and their effect on island avifaunas. In: Moors PJ (ed) Conservation of island birds. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, pp 35–81Google Scholar
  5. Bond AL, Brooke MdL, Cuthbert RJ et al (2018) Population status of four endemic land bird species after an unsuccessful rodent eradication on Henderson Island. Bird Conserv Int 29:1–12Google Scholar
  6. Broome K, Cromarty P, Cox A (2005) Rat eradications-how to get it right without a recipe. In: Proceedings of the 13th Australasian vertebrate pest conference. Te Papa Wellington, New Zealand, pp 152–157Google Scholar
  7. Broome K, Golding C, Brown KP et al (2017) Rat eradication using aerial baiting: current agreed best practice used in New Zealand (Version 3.1). New Zealand Department of Conservation internal document DOC-29396, Wellington, New ZealandGoogle Scholar
  8. Cope J (2011) Entrepreneurial learning from failure: an interpretative phenomenological analysis. J Bus Ventur 26:604–623CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Doherty TS, Glen AS, Nimmo DG et al (2016) Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 113:11261–11265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Griffiths R, Brown D, Tershy B et al (2019) Successes and failures of rat eradications on tropical islands: a comparative review of eight recent projects. In: Veitch CR, Clout MN, Martin AR, Russell CJ (eds) Island invasives: scaling up to meet the challenge. IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar
  11. Howald G, Donlan CJ, Galvan JP et al (2007) Invasive rodent eradication on islands. Conserv Biol 21:1258–1268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jones HP, Holmes ND, Butchart SHM et al (2016) Invasive mammal eradication on islands results in substantial conservation gains. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 113:4033–4038CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Keitt B, Griffiths R, Boudjelas S et al (2015) Best practice guidelines for rat eradication on tropical islands. Biol Conserv 185:17–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Madsen PM, Desai V (2010) Failing to learn? The effects of failure and success on organizational learning in the global orbital launch vehicle industry. Acad Manag J 53:451–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Meek MH, Wells C, Tomalty KM et al (2015) Fear of failure in conservation: the problem and potential solutions to aid conservation of extremely small populations. Biol Conserv 184:209–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Meek MH, Wells C, Tomalty KM et al (2016) We should not be afraid to talk about fear of failure in conservation. Biol Conserv 194:218–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Nathan HW, Clout MN, Murphy EC et al (2013) Strategies for detection of house mice on a recently invaded island. N Z J Ecol 37:26–32Google Scholar
  18. Nathan HW, Clout MN, MacKay JWB et al (2015) Experimental island invasion of house mice. Popul Ecol 57:363–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Parkes J, Fisher P (2017) Review of the Lehua Island rat eradication project 2009. Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit technical report 195. University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Department of Botany, Honolulu, p 48Google Scholar
  20. Politis D (2005) The process of entrepreneurial learning: a conceptual framework. Entrep Theory Pract 29:399–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Russell JC, Broome KG (2016) Fifty years of rodent eradications in New Zealand: another decade of advances. N Z J Ecol 40:197–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Russell JC, Holmes ND (2015) Tropical island conservation: rat eradication for species recovery. Biol Conserv 185:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Russell JC, Towns DR, Anderson SH et al (2005) Intercepting the first rat ashore. Nature 437:1107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Russell J, Towns D, Clout M (2008) Review of rat invasion biology. Science for conservation 286Google Scholar
  25. Russell JC, Miller SD, Harper GA et al (2010) Survivors or reinvaders? Using genetic assignment to identify invasive pests following eradication. Biol Invasions 12:1747–1757CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Russell JC, Binnie HR, Oh J et al (2017) Optimizing confirmation of invasive species eradication with rapid eradication assessment. J Appl Ecol 54:160–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Samaniego-Herrera A, Anderson DP, Parkes JP et al (2013) Rapid assessment of rat eradication after aerial baiting. J Appl Ecol 50:1415–1421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Simberloff D (2001) Eradication of island invasives: practical actions and results achieved. Trends Ecol Evol 16:273–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Springer K (2016) Methodology and challenges of a complex multi-species eradication in the sub-Antarctic and immediate effects of invasive species removal. N Z J Ecol 40:273–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Thorsen M, Shorten R, Lucking R et al (2000) Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) on Fregate Island, Seychelles: the invasion; subsequent eradication attempts and implications for the island's fauna. Biol Conserv 96:133–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Towns DR, Atkinson IAE, Daugherty CH (2006) Have the harmful effects of introduced rats on islands been exaggerated? Biol Invasions 8:863–891CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fisheries and WildlifeOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.USDA APHIS Wildlife ServicesNational Wildlife Research CenterHiloUSA
  3. 3.RSPB Centre for Conservation ScienceRoyal Society for the Protection of BirdsThe Lodge, Sandy, BedfordshireUK
  4. 4.Bird Group, Department of Life SciencesThe Natural History MuseumHertfordshireUK
  5. 5.School of Biological Sciences and Department of StatisticsUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  6. 6.Zero Invasive PredatorsWellingtonNew Zealand
  7. 7.FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, DST/NRF Centre of ExcellenceUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa
  8. 8.Seabird Conservation ProgrammeRoggebaaiSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations