Knowledge for a sustainable world

Steven Belmain

Like locust's and other plagues of biblical proportions, local rat populations can sometimes rapidly grow to epidemic proportions, causing untold destruction to people's livelihoods. NRI?s rodent expert, Dr Steve Belmain, has co-edited a book about these rodent outbreaks that has just been published by the International Rice Research Institute. The book can be freely accessed from IRRI's online library. Dr Belmain has been carrying out ecological research on rats and their management in Africa and Asia for many years and has been involved in recent research on outbreaks of rats in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh 1. The BBC Earth News website talks about Dr Belmain's research and the problems of rodent outbreaks.

The impacts of rodents in both developing and developed countries are legendary. Myths and dogma about rodents and their population outbreaks abound. They are imbedded in the culture and language of many societies. In many instances, it is the acceptance of these outbreaks by society that is our greatest challenge. The reason these episodic outbreaks become etched in the socio-cultural psyche from the sparsely populated uplands of Laos to the considerably more affluent agricultural lands of Europe is that the impacts are often staggering - economically, socially, and even politically. The book is a collation of contributions from Asia, Africa, Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), Europe, and North America. The advent of ecologically based rodent management has stimulated the progress summarized in this book. The contributions provide a modern appraisal to an age-old problem through a better understanding of the mechanisms that lead to rodent outbreaks, why rodent population numbers increase under different circumstances, and the impact of outbreaks in a range of different agroecosystems and native forests in different parts of the world. This is an encouraging progress report driven by scientists passionate about rodents, about people, about conservation, and about improving our knowledge of these species and the ecosystems they inhabit. And, in a novel twist, there is an appendix of recipes for preparing rat meat. You will be more than tempted to try one of these dishes the next time you travel in Asia or Africa.

Normile D. (2010) Holding back a torrent of rats. Science. 327(5967): 806-807.

Singleton, G.R. Belmain, S.R., et al. (2010) Impacts of rodent outbreaks on food security in Asia. Wildlife Research. 37:355-359.