6 Extraordinary Roles of Rats in the Ecosystem
Rats are notorious disease-carrying scavengers. Mankind’s aversion towards these animals is understandable. Since they are responsible for the transmission of various diseases, like leptospirosis, Q fever, viral hemorrhagic fever, etc., many of which are considered lethal.
The plagues caused by rats date all the way back to the 14th century, wherein 100 million people lost their lives in the pandemic. Despite the musophobia in the majority of the population, rats aren’t entirely as revolting as people deem them to be.
They actually benefit the ecosystem in a lot of ways.
#1. Food Source
One major proof of rats role in the ecosystem. Rats are used as food by humans around the globe. 75% of the population of Africa thrives on wild animals, a huge part being rats.
Rat meat is considered a healthy food since it contains essential amino acids.
The largest rat to be consumed by humans weighed around 50kg.
They are abundant in the environment due to their productivity, and not being subjected to game laws either. They serve as an easily accessible food source for the common population. Other mammals, reptiles, and amphibians consume rats too.
Rats contribute to the food web by converting plant material into a form that other animals can easily consume. Barn owls are called as such because they spend a lot of their time searching for rodents in barns.
Most of the rodents consumed by humans are declared agricultural pests. Even though humans have been consuming rats for a long time, this hasn’t brought any significant decrease in their numbers because they rapidly reproduce.
And for the same reason, they are said to be an almost unlimited source of human food. This allows rats to be continuously harvested without their species becoming endangered.
#2. Soil Aeration
This is another important note of rats role in the ecosystem. Rats dig into the soil creating an extensive network of tunnels and burrows. This serves as not only home to them, but to several other smaller animals in the ecosystem too.
The digging action with their feet also leads to the turning and mixing of different layers of soil. The plants, litters, and even the feces of other animals get churned together with the soil.
As a result, the new ground becomes highly fertile and nutritious. It contains a lot of essential elements like nitrogen, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
This blend of organic and inorganic matter serves as a nutrient source for plant growth. The mixing of soil in this way turns it into finer particles which leads to better permeation of water, therefore, better vegetation.
Especially male rats role in the ecosystem because they have a small grub-like body with seemingly naked skin, are well renowned for their influence in affecting the plant diversity by their soil burrowing actions.
#3. Experimental Animals
Rats are biologically similar to humans since we share a lot of physiological and neurological similarities.
Jenny Haliski, a representative of National Institute of Health (NIH) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare states, “Rats and mice are mammals that share many processes with humans and are appropriate for use to answer many research questions.”
Therefore, they serve as the most accessible and dispensable subjects to test experimental drugs and treatments. The effect of the drugs in lab rats can be observed to evaluate and predict their impact on humans.
Life-changing transplant surgeries have been performed because of the experimental studies were done to observe the reaction of a rat’s body to organ transplants.
According to the Foundation of Biomedical Research (FBR), rodents constitute 95% of the animals used for lab experiments. They have a lot of advantages in this case. They’re small, docile, and mild tempered. That’s why they are easy to handle.
Also, they adapt to a new environment reasonably well. Owing to their rapid reproduction rate, they can grow a large population in a relatively small amount of time. This allows for a large number of subjects, and thus more accuracy in the results of the experiments.
Till date, rodents have been used by researchers for the following diseases in humans:
- Respiratory problems
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- HIV and AIDs
- Heart disease
- Muscular dystrophy
- Spinal cord injuries
In addition to this, rats have been used to study behavioral changes in response to drugs. As well as being tested for medicines that have been claimed to bring an end to drug addiction.
#4. Seed Dispersion
Rats are heavily reliant on seeds. They store a large amount to eat them later. However, they eventually end up dropping a lot of them, leading to their dispersion across the landscape.
The potential seedlings germinate, and a tree sprouts from them. So, they play a significant role in sprouting of various trees in a forest and lead to the diversity of plants in the environment.
#5. Detecting Landmines
Apopo, a Belgian non-profit organization, trains African large pouch sized rats, which are almost the size of a small cat, to sniff out landmines.
Despite having bad vision, these rats can detect the TNT in explosives because of their remarkable sense of smell.
And since they are fairly lightweight, they do not set off the mines. They are being used to search for explosives in Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, and Cambodia. This method of detecting landmines spares the life of people who risk their lives by using metal detectors. Rats are also faster in executing this than humans.
#6. Disease Diagnosis
African giant pouched rat, which is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, is also being used in Tanzania and Mozambique for the detection of Tuberculosis in the patients. TB, a disease that affects the lung and can be fatal if untreated, has the highest death rate in Africa.
It is widespread, and the screening tests used for its detection are fallible. In such cases, these rats come in handy because they can detect tuberculosis from the cough sputum sample of the patient efficiently.
As you can now see, despite their negative reputation, rats role in the ecosystem is important and beneficial.***