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Rattus macleari

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA MAMMALIA RODENTIA MURIDAE

Scientific Name: Rattus macleari
Species Authority: (Thomas, 1887)
Common Name(s):
English Maclear's Rat

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Extinct ver 3.1
Year Published: 2009
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Lamoreux, J.
Reviewer(s): Amori, G. & Chanson, J.S.
Justification:
Listed as Extinct because it has not been recorded since 1902-1904, and extensive searches in the intervening years have failed to locate this species.
History:
1996 Extinct
1994 Extinct (Groombridge 1994)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Maclear's Rat was endemic to Christmas Island, Australia. Christmas Island is approximately 138 km2 and lies 345 km south of Java, the nearest landmass, in the Indian Ocean.
Countries:
Regionally extinct:
Christmas Island
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Maclear's Rat became extinct probably between 1902 and 1904. It was, however, abundant on Christmas Island at the close of the 19th century. Lister visited the island in 1887 and said of Maclear's Rat, it "abounds all over the island" (Lister 1888). Andrews (1900) who was on the island for ten months, 1897-1898, noted that it was "by far the commonest of the mammals found in the island; in every part I visited, it occurred in swarms. During the day nothing is to be seen of it, but soon after sunset numbers may be seen running about in all directions." Andrews continued by stating that "as may be imagined, they are a great nuisance, entering the tents or shelters, running over the sleepers, and upsetting everything in their search for food" (Andrews 1900).

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: This species was largely or entirely nocturnal, and had little fear of people. It was terrestrial, climbed trees, and was present all over the island, which was at the time mostly covered by tropical moist forest. Lister (1888) noted that "they generally keep to the ground, but are able to climb trees." Andrews (1900), who apparently was more impressed by their climbing ability, said they "ascend trees to a great height" in pursuit of fruits and young shoots, and "I have often seen them run up the trailing stems of the lianas, and, in fact, they can climb as well as a squirrel." Little is known of their diet, except that they were fond of fruits and young shoots.

Nothing more is known about the habitat and ecology of this species aside from what is contained in the following lines: "In the daytime these rats live in holes among the roots of trees, in decaying logs, and shallow burrows. They seem to breed all the year round" (Andrews 1900).
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): This species was still abundant in 1897-1898 while Andrews was on Christmas Island (Andrews 1900). By the time he returned to the island in 1908, he was confident that it and the other native rat species, Rattus nativitatis, were extinct (Andrews 1909). Andrews (1909) speculated that introduced Black Rats R. rattus had brought an epidemic disease to the island that wiped out both native rats. Nearly 100 years later, the mystery was finally solved by Wyatt et al. (2008), who used ancient DNA methods on samples from museum specimens of these rodents collected during the extinction window (AD 1888–1908), and showed that endemic rats collected prior to the introduction of Black Rats were devoid of evidence of a pathogenic trypanosome (carried by fleas hosted on recently-introduced Black Rats).

To Andrews, the disappearance of such an abundant animal in such a short time had to be due to disease because R. rattus was not present over the entire island. It was unreasonable therefore to assume that the native species had been out-competed by R. rattus all over the island (Andrews 1909). Two predators had been introduced to the island by 1908, cat and dog, but these were far too few to rid the island of the rats (Andrews 1900, 1909). Although Christmas Island had an increasing human settlement at Flying Fish Cove, roads now crossed the island, and there was active phosphate mining, there was still a lot of native forest and even collectively these human disturbances were unlikely to have caused significant declines in the populations of Maclear's Rat (Andrews 1909). Andrews (1909) also relates anecdotal information that a medical officer on the island, Dr. McDougal, recalled frequently seeing "individuals of the native species of rats crawling about the paths in the daytime, apparently in a dying condition" in 1902-1904.

Pickering and Norris (1996) report on documents concerning Maclear's Rat that were uncovered at Oxford University, and specimens from the Zoological Collections, University Museum, Oxford University and the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge. The documents include notes for a lecture by K. R. Hanitsch who visited Christmas Island for five weeks in 1904 and was unable to locate either species of native rat. Dr. Durham, a pathologist, visited the island from November 1901 to March 1902 and reported in expedition reports that he was told that R. rattus had been introduced to the island in 1899 by the S.S. Hindustan. Durham also collected 19 rat specimens. Pickering and Norris (1996) note that some of these specimens were of R. macleari, R. rattus, and some of varying degrees of hybrid between R. macleari and R. rattus. Hybridisation between the two species, with the implication that R. macleari was genetically swamped by R. rattus, was put forward as a contributing factor in the demise of R. macleari (Pickering and Norris 1996). However, hybridisation between the two species is unlikely given the phylogenetic distance between them, and apparently re-examination of specimens confirms that each belongs to one or the other species (Musser and Carleton 2005; Aplin 2008). This is further supported by the molecular studies of Wyatt et al. (2008).

Notes on the date of extinction / date last seen (1902-1904):
Because Durham collected specimens, some of which were R. macleari, in late 1901 and 1902, R. macleari must have become extinct after 1901.

McDougal was the last person to recall seeing native rats alive, albeit in the act of dying (Andrews 1909). These rats were probably R. macleari because R. nativitatis was the rarer of the two, as evidenced by the fact that Durham was unable to collect any specimens of R. nativitatis in 1901-1902. Andrews (1909) writes that McDougal's recollections are from 5-6 years before, but it is unclear whether he meant 5-6 years prior to his 1909 publication (putting the date at 1903-1904), or if it was 5-6 years prior to 1908 when Andrews was on Christmas Island (putting the date as 1902-1903 as Pickering and Norris (1996) interpret the anecdote). Because Hanitsch was unable to locate the species in 1904, it is likely that the species already had become extinct.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: There are no conservation measures pertaining to this species.

Citation: Lamoreux, J. 2009. Rattus macleari. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 29 August 2014.
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