Surveillance and Forecasts for Mouse Outbreaks in Australian Cropping Systems

Outbreaks of house mice (Mus domesticus) cause substantial economic and social hardship, and pose a significant health risk to farmers. A ‘real-time’ national system for surveillance and forecasting mouse outbreaks (plagues) is required urgently. Real-time surveillance will help farmers apply mouse control early, and modify farm management before mice cause economic damage and social disruption in rural communities. In addition, reliable, real-time forecasts will help commercial operators secure adequate supplies of rodenticides to enable farmers to apply control in a timely manner. To be self-sustaining, a real-time national surveillance and forecasting system needs to provide immediate benefits to farmers. To be responsive and to have broad scale coverage, it needs to be based on information provided directly by farmers and the grains industry.

In 2012 a national network for monitoring mouse populations was set up in representative areas of all grain-growing regions. Mouse populations were monitored seasonally in typical grains farming systems in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Subsequently, the network was expanded in central New South Wales and in Yorke Peninsula and Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Monitoring was conducted at (a) benchmark sites where regular surveys and research have collected detailed data for >30 years, (b) rapid assessment sites using low-cost quantitative techniques, and (c) sites where qualitative information was provided by farmers and agronomists. The monitoring provided data on the abundance of mice and their breeding status. This information was used in population models that have been developed progressively over the last 20-30 years to predict mouse plagues. Regular reports summarising the monitoring information and model-based forecasts were provided to the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the National Mouse Monitoring Working Group (NMMWG) and farmer groups, and were disseminated widely via the Invasive Animals CRC (IA CRC) communications programme.

MouseAlert_multiQualitative assessments of mouse abundance were provided by farmers via a web-based platform and mobile phone app called MouseAlert. MouseAlert is a free, easy-to-use resource that was custom built to enable farmers to record their observations and obtain immediate access to status reports and information on mice for their local area. The MouseAlert phone app was launched in April 2015 with a special event, the ‘National Mouse Census Week’, to encourage use by farmers.

In parallel with collection of monitoring data, a new region-specific model for forecasting plagues of mice has been developed. In most cases, detailed predictions of abundance are not necessary and instead farmers need to know when large abundance fluctuations are likely to occur, especially at sowing and prior to harvest. In contrast to previous models for predicting mouse plagues, the new model translates current observations into consistent ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ levels of mouse abundance. Then, using additional rainfall data, the model predicts the likelihood that mouse abundance will stay at the same level or change to a different level during the next season. These predictions are made for each 30 km x 30 km ‘grid cell’ within a grain-growing region. The model was implemented initially for south-eastern Australia using data from benchmark sites and rapid assessment sites.

Secondary title PestSmart
Author Roger Pech, Peter Brown, Jennyffer Cruz, Steve Henry, Lyn Hinds, Andrea Byrom, Peter West and Julianne Farrell

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Year 2015
Place published Canberra
Publisher Invasive Animals CRC
Pages 34
ISBN/ISSN Web ISBN: 978-0-9943800-8-1
Region Australia - national