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The challenge

Mouse plagues can 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, and 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 three million hectares of crops in the New South Wales 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 are favourable and, with little warning, farmers can have a costly and escalating problem.

Our response

Catching growing populations before they become a problem

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.

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.

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 warnings of possible plagues and provide rapid response to increases in mouse activity.

Farmers and advisers throughout Australia's grain-growing regions are being asked to log their mouse sightings through MouseAlert to help provide the information that researchers need to make predictions about future outbreaks of mice.

MouseAlert provides farmers and advisers with the opportunity to access information about mouse activity in their area at critical times during the cropping season to determine whether numbers are at levels that could pose a risk to crops.

MouseAlert data has formed a valuable baseline for comparison when monitoring mouse activity at 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.

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

However, our own routine monitoring of mouse activity can only show part of the picture, and we need farmers and agronomists to expand this information for us on a much broader scale to better predict plagues.

Sightings can be logged via the MouseAlert App – part of the FeralScan phone App available in the iTunes store – or at the MouseAlert website.

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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