PREDATION OR SCAVENGING? GRUNER LAB COLLABORATES ON A NOVEL METHOD OF MEASURING INTERACTIONS BETWEEN INVASIVE RATS & BIRDS
On the Hawaiian Islands invasive black rats are eating native and introduced birds. The long-term ecological impact of the rats' taste for island birds will depend on whether or not the rats are preying upon birds or scavenging their dead remains, a species interaction that can be difficult to verify through observation alone. So scientist from Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation Genomics and the Gruner Lab (grad student Madhvi Venkatraman, former postdoc Erin E Wilson Rankin and Associate Prof. Daniel S. Gruner) set out to find another way to measure these hard to see interactions. They worked out a method of using bacterial biomarkers in the rat's stomach and feces to tell whether the birds consumed were alive or dead. Their paper entitled, “Identification of novel bacterial biomarkers to detect bird scavenging by invasive rats”, was published earlier this year in Ecology and Evolution, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.7171.