We’re leading Australia’s first ever national mouse census, Mouse Alert, helping farmers to identify and target ‘hot spots’ for mouse populations before and during the seeding of winter crops.

The challenge

Mouse plagues devastate crops and livestock

In 1993, Australia’s worst ever mouse plague caused an estimated $96 million worth of damage. The mice destroyed thousands of hectares of crops and attacked livestock in piggeries and poultry farms. They chewed through rubber and electrical insulation, damaged farm vehicles, ruined cars and buildings.

EXPLOSION: Mouse plagues erupt in the grain-growing regions of Australia, like the Darling Downs, causing massive disruption to communities and losses to farmers.  ©Grant Singleton

Another plague in 2010/11 was almost as bad, affecting 3 million hectares of crops in NSW’s central west and the Riverina, as well as parts of Victoria and South Australia. In addition to the economic and disease impacts, the plagues can cause severe psychological distress for people living through them.

Even when mouse numbers are low, growers need to remain vigilant as mouse populations can increase rapidly as soon as the conditions favour them and, with little warning, farmers can have a costly and escalating problem.

Most recently, in September 2014, unusually high numbers of mice were reported in western Victoria. With the right weather conditions, these could translate into plague proportions by autumn 2015.

Our response

Catching growing populations before they explode

Knowing that mouse numbers can rapidly escalate under the right conditions, technology is now allowing citizen science to gather far more data on mouse populations than ever before.

Launched in 2014, the MouseAlert website and mobile app allows farmers and everyday residents to report mouse sightings. The tool is aimed at improving early warning of possible plagues and rapid response to increases in mouse activity.

CAPTURED: Mouse Alert collects mouse sighting data in real time.  © Mouse Alert

During the week of 13-19 April 2015, farmers and advisers throughout Australia’s grain-growing regions are being asked to log their mouse sightings through MouseAlert for the nation’s first ever Mouse Census Week by assessing mouse activity on their farms.

The census is taking place before seeding of winter crops – a critical time for locating mouse “hot spots” and determining whether numbers are at levels that could pose a risk to newly-sown crops.

Mouse Census Week will create an unprecedented bank of data about mouse activity in agricultural areas. It will also form a valuable baseline for comparison when monitoring mouse activity at other critical times of the year, such as during the crop growing phase in winter, and in spring to get an understanding of population size and breeding activity prior to harvest.

The results

A national picture of mouse populations

Over the years, our scientists have become increasingly accurate at predicting mouse plagues, including correct predictions for 1994 and 2001-2003.

Grain grower Richard Konzag, of Mallala in South Australia, holding his mobile phone and displaying the MouseAlert app.

SNAP: Grain grower Richard Konzag, of Mallala in South Australia, says recording information about mouse numbers and activity on his property via the MouseAlert app was a simple but important exercise.  © Grains Research and Development Corporation

We know from our own routine monitoring that mouse activity is currently low in Victoria and New South Wales, but on the increase in South Australia with higher than normal abundance in some regions.

We also know that there is moderate to high mouse activity on Yorke Peninsula, the Adelaide Plains and in parts of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, as well as Macalister in Queensland and Ravensthorpe/Esperance in Western Australia. Yorke Peninsula currently has the most significant mouse activity in Australia, as at 2015.

We now need farmers and agronomists to confirm this information for us on a much broader scale than we have ever been able to work before.

The new MouseAlert App, part of the FeralScan phone App, is available in the iTunes store.

The mouse-monitoring programs are funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation in collaboration with Landcare Research New Zealand, CSIRO and NSW Department of Primary Industries through the Invasive Animals CRC.

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