Rodents are a key mammalian group, which are highly successful in many environments throughout the world. They constitute more than 42% of the known mammalian species. In many instances rodents provide major benefits to the environment as bio-engineers but the conservation status of quite a number of species is listed by IUCN as at risk, threatened or endangered. However, of major importance are the 5-10% of rodent species that cause significant losses to agricultural crops in many regions of the world. In Asia alone, rodents cause 5-10% of loss to rice, the staple of the human population. This amount of grain eaten by rodents in rice fields each year (based on a 5% loss) would feed 200 million Asians for a year. Many rodent species are also important reservoirs of organisms that cause debilitating diseases in humans and livestock. In SE Asia, 90% of livestock are raised on predominantly rice farms. The two farming systems are inextricably linked. We therefore need to take a systems approach to rodent management and this will be a common theme throughout the course.
The ecology and management of rodent pests is rarely taught in universities in SE Asia and South Asia. Expertise in rodent management is therefore lacking in most developing countries in Asia. Until a recent resurgence in interest and funding, rodent pest management had not progressed in Asia since the 1970s mainly because there had been too little research effort to understand the biology, behavior and habitat use of the species we are attempting to manage. There is a growing demand, particularly in developing countries, for rodent control strategies that either have less reliance on chemical rodenticides or can better target their use. Similar concerns exist with the control of insect and weed pests. This led to the development of the concept of ecologically-based pest management (EPM) which builds on the progress made with integrated pest management (IPM). During the course we will return often to this theme and provide examples where research on the basic biology and ecology of rodent pests has provided management strategies that are more sustainable and environmentally benign, as well as having a positive impact on livelihoods through improving the income and health of rural communities.
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