We need more rats.

That’s what researchers at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch are considering after analyzing quail populations for nine years. The ranch’s annual small mammal trapping surveys revealed that rats represent a healthy habitat for quail, and the greater the number of vermin, presumably, the greater the number of quail.

The findings were published in the West Texas property’s newsletter, e-Quail. RPQRR is 4,720-acre ranch devoted to stopping the loss of western quail before their populations dwindle like those in the eastern half of the country. The ranch was founded in 2007 after a group of hunters made a successful hunt in the area. They decided to research better game management strategies to improve quail and quail hunting, as well as share that knowledge with other  ”students of quail,” as they call quail enthusiasts.

A graph of Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch’s small mammal trapping surveys.

The researchers asked the question, “What happens to the populations of other animals as quail increase or decrease?” They labeled it the “___-string,” the string that pulls on a given species when they “pulled on the quail string.” Small mammals, insects, and nongame birds were all examined, but it was the lowly mouse and rat that caught the researchers’ attention.

On “rat years,” years where rats and mice were more common, the habitat was better and could support more animals. Rats and mice also provided a buffer prey for quail predators, allowing quail to thrive in the high-quality habitat.

Mice and rats are welcome sights in quail habitat. Their presence indicates a healthy ecosystem for quail populations.

RPQRR’s intern, Christine Palmer, led the ranch’s annual trapping efforts in 2015. The amount of rodents captured was 830—more than four times the captures of previous years. The findings point to a habitat of sufficient quality to hold the rats—and possibly more quail.

For the full report, visit the RPQRR’s e-Quail newsletter.


Photo credit: Thinkstock


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