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Title: Asian House Rats May Facilitate Their Invasive Success Through Suppressing Brown Rats in Chronic Interaction
Author: Hong-Ling Guo, Hua-Jing Teng, Jin-Hua Zhang, Jian-Xu Zhang, Yao-Hua Zhang


The Asian house rat (Rattus tanezumi) and the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) are closely related species and are partially sympatric in southern China. Over the past 20 years, R. tanezumi has significantly expanded northward in China and partially replaced the native brown rat subspecies, R. n. humiliatus. Although invasive species are often more aggressive than native species, we did not observe interspecific physical aggression between R. tanezumiand R. n. humiliatus. Here, we focused on whether or not R. tanezumi was superior to R. n. humiliatus in terms of nonphysical competition, which is primarily mediated by chemical signals.


We performed two laboratory experiments to test different paradigms in domesticated R. tanezumi and R. n. humiliatus. In Experiment 1, we caged adult male rats of each species for 2 months in heterospecific or conspecific pairs, partitioned by perforated galvanized iron sheets, allowing exchange of chemical stimuli and ultrasonic vocalization. The sexual attractiveness of male urine odor showed a tendency (marginal significance) to increase in R. tanezumi caged with R. n. humiliatus, compared with those in conspecific pairs. Hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and brain-derived nutrition factor (BDNF) mRNA were upregulated in R. n. humiliatus and R. tanezumi, respectively, when the rats were caged in heterospecific pairs. In Experiment 2, we kept juvenile male rats in individual cages in rooms with either the same or the different species for 2 months, allowing chemical interaction. The sexual attractiveness of male urine was significantly enhanced in R. tanezumi, but reduced in R. n. humiliatus by heterospecific cues and mRNA expression of hippocampal GR and BDNF were upregulated by heterospecific cues in R. n. humiliatus and R. tanezumi, respectively. Although not identical, the results from Experiments 1 and 2 were generally consistent.


The results of both experiments indicate that nonphysical/chronic interspecific stimuli, particularly scent signals, between R. n. humiliatus and R. tanezumi may negatively affect R. n. humiliatus and positively affect R. tanezumi. We infer that chronic interspecific interactions may have contributed to the invasion of R. tanezumi into the range of R. n. humiliatus in natural habitats.

Corresponding author: Jian-Xu Zhang, Yao-Hua Zhang
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PubYear: 2017
Volume: 14
Page: Article No. 20
Journal: Frontiers in Zoology
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URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12983-017-0202-4