A team of life and environmental scientists from the University of Sydney found that spraying wheat fields with wheat germ oil after sowing prevents rats that feed on the seeds. In their study, reported in the journal Nature sustainabilityThe group tested a technique first used in New Zealand to protect endangered birds.
Farmers have been trying to outsmart field mice for centuries – mice love to eat grain, whether stored or in the form of seeds in the ground. Previous research found that they consume nearly 70 million tons of corn, rice and wheat grains each year worldwide. Unfortunately, despite massive efforts to deter rodents, farmers still have to rely on poisons and, in some cases, cats. In this new effort, the researchers may have found a better option.
The researchers noted that colleagues in New Zealand tried to smear the scents of endangered birds in areas the birds would never visit. This led to predators becoming increasingly suspicious of such scents, because when followed, there was no payoff. This led them to ignore the birds’ scent even in their presence.
To see if this approach might work for mice, the team treated 60 10×10 plots with wheat germ oil, which has the aroma of wheat germ — the part of wheat that mice want to eat. To gauge its effectiveness, the team sprayed it on plots before planting seeds and others after sowing. They also left some plots of land unaddressed.
They were surprised to find that the oil was not a false signal; The mice still eat the seeds where the plots were previously processed. But they also found that the rats were left largely alone in the treated plots after planting. The researchers suggest that this was likely because too much odor confused the mice, making it impossible for them to find the seeds.
Finn CG Parker et al, Olfactory misinformation reduces wheat seed loss caused by rodent pests, Nature sustainability (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-023-01127-3
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