Skip to main content
Hedgehog in New Zealand
News_

I smell a rat!

11 September 2015
A technique that protects vulnerable species using chemical camouflage could protect native wildlife

A new strategy developed by our researchers that uses odours to confuse predators could help save New Zealand's native species. 

A clever technique that tricks predators into not trusting their noses to lead them to the next meal could protect vulnerable species in New Zealand and elsewhere.

Associate Professor Peter Banks and Dr Catherine Price from the University of Sydney’s School of Biological Sciences, are part of a trans-Tasman team that has won a grant to protect New Zealand's native wildlife, using the strategy.

In a land naturally devoid of mammalian predators, the introduction of ferrets, hedgehogs, stoats, rats and cats have wrought havoc on New Zealand's birds.

"Many of the birds have evolved behaviours that defend them from native avian predators, which hunt mostly by vision, but not from introduced mammals, which hunt mostly by smell," explained Associate Professor Banks. "This has created a behavioural mismatch between the predators and vulnerable native species, and the results have been devastating."

The aptly named Smart Ideas grant, worth $984,300, builds on Peter and Catherine's previous research in which they successfully 'hid' bird eggs in the NSW bush from hungry rats by peppering the environment with unrewarding but same-smelling odour cues. When the rats went to investigate an eggy smell, they found something inedible and no longer learnt to associate that smell with a tasty treat.

Peter and Catherine have joined forces with Dr Grant NorburyDr Andrea Byrom and Professor Roger Pech from Landcare Research New Zealand to apply their deceptive odour strategy to New Zealand's birds.

The idea is to give birds a 'window-of-opportunity' to breed successfully before any re-learning begins. "The technique is well suited to situations where there is a need to protect vulnerable prey during critical time-periods. For instance, birds are particularly vulnerable during nesting or after translocation when they are 'settling in' to a new location."In this new study the team will continue to test the idea that vulnerable birds can be protected by using odours."Predators will investigate the odour but receive no food reward," Peter explained. "After several weeks, predators will lose interest in investigating the odour, and we will have deceived them into thinking that bird odours are no longer a profitable cue for food."

"This form of 'chemical camouflage' is a novel technique for protecting valued fauna from scent-hunting predators, and should be particularly applicable to threats to native species from introduced mammalian predators, a problem faced not just in New Zealand but worldwide."

The highly competitive grant from the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will be administered by Landcare Research New Zealand and provides funding for two years.

Verity Leatherdale

Manager, Faculty Media and PR
Address
  • Level 2 Services Building G12

Related articles

17 June 2016

Satellite testing launches

Three small Australian cube-sized satellites will be launched from the International Space Station to research new regions that could impact technology used on Earth, with the University of Sydney leading development of one of the CubeSats, undergoing testing in Canberra this week. 

23 June 2016

New insights into the causes of sudden cardiac death in the young revealed

Sudden cardiac death claims the lives of 2-3 young Australians every week. 

23 June 2016

Researchers help Qantas fly cleaner and cheaper

Unveiled this week, the new flight planning system is the result of a world-first, four-year project conducted at the University’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR). The team comprising four aeronautical research fellows, 3 PhD candidates and 10 software engineers worked on designing new system models.

21 June 2016

University welcomes new Sydney School of Entrepreneurship

The University of Sydney has welcomed the NSW Government's $25 million pledge to create the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship as a new collaborative venture in the higher education sector. 

15 June 2016

Robotics for farms of the future

With Australia’s farming future looking increasingly reliant on automated technologies, such as low-cost robotics, the industry’s vision should include more support for agri-technology start-ups, retraining growers and agronomists for a digital age, and introducing rural kids to hands-on robotics.   

02 June 2016

Why $1 a litre milk won’t take Australia from the mining to the dining boom

Despite demand from overseas markets such as China, Australia’s milk wars illustrate the difficulty of taking a low-cost commodity approach to competition. Farmers need to embrace digital disruption, promoting our renowned clean, green produce by using tools that are increasingly available to detail the journey from behind the farm gate to the consumer.

16 June 2016

MadMaker tours rural NSW

MadMaker is the brainchild of electrical and information technologies engineer Dr Abelardo Pardo, a specialist in technology-based learning. It was designed to inspire students who may not have previously considered a future career in engineering, technology or science-related fields.

13 December 2016

Confidence boost linked to weight loss in smartphone trial

Confidence is key when motivating young people to change their diet and exercise habits, new research from the University of Sydney shows.

13 December 2016

New diamond harder than ring bling

An international team has created a harder-than-diamond Lonsdaleite diamond – usually found at the site of meteoric impacts. Unlike cubic diamonds, the hexagonal creation is more likely to be used in manufacturing.

13 December 2016

Sydney alum off to Stanford as Monash scholar

University of Sydney alumnus Dr Martin Seneviratne has been named the 2017 Roden Cutler NSW John Monash Scholar. The award will see Dr Seneviratne head to Stanford University to continue his ground-breaking work into clinical informatics.