I smell you: a super-lure for stoats

  • Ferret. Image - Grant Morriss

    Ferret. Image - Grant Morriss

Leader: Dr Patrick Garvey, Manaaki Whenua

Mission statement

The development of new super lures, where attraction is provoked by hard-wired competitive and predator-assessment behaviour, could provide a step change for invasive species management in New Zealand: a new tool in the toolkit for invasive mammal predators, and a step towards building resilient ecosystems.

Summary

A team from Manaaki Whenua, the University of Auckland, and a range of other organisations are working on a super-lure to improve the success of controlling stoats – a mammal that inflicts a devastating toll on Aotearoa’s native wildlife.

Like most mammals, stoats have a highly developed sense of smell which can be exploited to catch them. Food lures are typically used to attract them, yet may be ineffective where pests are wary of the lures or prey is abundant.

This BioHeritage project builds on the discovery that stoats are attracted to predator pheromones, particularly to the scent of another predator: ferrets. Stoat detection increased three-fold when ferret odour was added to monitoring sites.

The next step in the research is to identify compounds in ferret odour that stimulate attraction, so that artificial scent can be created. Using artificial scent rather than the primary biological material will extend the longevity and effectiveness of the lure, and enable sufficient quantities produced to benefit predator control projects across Aotearoa.

Ferret odour is a non-toxic natural lure that is suitable for use in all environments, so development of new super-lures could provide noticeable improvements for invasive species management throughout Aotearoa.

The lure is already being used for predator monitoring and control at a range of sites around the country including Hawkes Bay, Waiheke Island, west Auckland, and in the Hauraki Gulf.

Dr Patrick Garvey (Manaaki Whenua), Dr James Russell (University of Auckland) lead a team of scientists from Plant & Food Research, University of Otago, and Victoria University.

Long life lures

Patrick Garvey, Transforming Biodiversity Conference 2017

Smell is the primary sense of many mammals, providing an animal with essential information about its environment. Natural selection will encourage the investigation of odours that assist survival and this evolutionary drive could be the Achilles heel of invasive species. Our research aims to exploit the attractive power of natural odours and to develop a long-life synthetic lure for invasive species management. Predator control in New Zealand primarily relies on food-based lures (e.g. rabbit meat) to attract target species. However, food lures need to be replenished frequently, which can be costly and labour intensive. A concerted effort is underway to develop long-life ‘super lures’ to improve the success of monitoring and control operations. This search took an unexpected twist when it was discovered that animals are attracted to the odour of co-existing dominant predators. Over a series of pen and field trials, the pungent odour of ferrets was found to be highly attractive and a potential tool for wildlife management. Now that a candidate lure has been identified, the next step is to ascertain the attractive compounds that occur in ferret odour. Using a combination of behaviour trials and chemical analysis, we isolated the important chemicals that provoke attraction. By combining synthetic versions of these attractive compounds we can now create an alluring predator ‘perfume’. Creating an artificial copy of the scent rather than using the primary biological material, allows the life and hence effectiveness of the lure to be extended and sufficient quantities can be produced for predator management at landscape scales.

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