Of Mice And Men: Fundamental Insights Resulting From Long-Term Field Studies With Rodents Destroying Crops Or Carrying Infections

  • 9 November 2023
    4:00 PM
  • University Campus Bohunice (pavilion B11/ seminar room 132)

Lecture will be held in English


Hosted by

Josef Bryja

About the lecture

Of Mice And Men: Fundamental Insights Resulting From Long-Term Field Studies With Rodents Destroying Crops Or Carrying Infections

Rodents and humans have a problematic relation. The damage caused by rodents in agriculture and their role in the transmission of infections have given them a pest status and an eagerness among people to get rid of them without much consideration. Ecological studies of rodents therefore usually are not met with much enthusiasm, and short-term control actions are preferred. Yet, sustained long-term studies of free-living rodent populations may yield valuable insights in fundamental mechanisms of ecology, help understanding why populations vary in time and space and predict and even prevent damage. In this lecture, I will illustrate this using two examples.
Multimammate mice, Mastomys natalensis, are common rodents in sub-Saharan Africa. They cause damage in agriculture and can have devastating population outbreaks. They are also reservoirs for infectious diseases, among others plague and Lassa fever. We have studied a population of these rodents for over 30 years in Tanzania, operating a still ongoing monthly capture-recapture study with so far more than 20,000 individuals that have been marked and released. These data have made it possible to develop models for outbreak prediction and simulating interventions, but also to better understand how viral infections can persist in populations that go through periods of very low abundance and what the role of individual heterogeneity is in that process. However, they also show that such patterns can change over time, for example linked to climate change.
Great gerbils, Rhombomys opimus, occur over vast areas in the desert of Central Asia and are known as the main reservoir of Yersinia pestis, the bacteria causing plague. During Soviet times an enormous plague surveillance program was set up, which in Kazachstan was run between 1950 and 1995, to document the population size of the gerbils, their fleas and the presence of plague. Although the work was intended to guide immediate control actions if plague was found, the data that were recorded during this period of more than 50 years now turn out to be a treasure for ecological research allowing spatial and temporal prediction of plague outbreaks. Using these data it is even possible to understand why plague erupted during specific periods in history, and what we can expect under future conditions.
The two systems are of direct interest to humans, but also offer great opportunities as model systems. Such added value is only possible if studies can be maintained during many years, as these examples show.


Registration for lunch with the speaker /for Ph.D. students/

The sponsored lunch usually takes place in the Campus River restaurant. Please meet the speaker and other students at 12:45 at the reception desk at the main entrance (building B22, see the map below).


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