HOBOKEN, N.J. A 10-pound rodent pest called nutria ravaging southern wetlands in the US, which has been especially damaging to the marshland ecology in the Mississippi Delta following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, may have finally met its match thanks to molecular science that includes the work of Professor Athula B. Attygalle, an expert in molecular chemistry and mass-spectrometry based at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, and a team of scientists from Cornell University and University of Iowa.
The biology of the nutria species allows it to reproduce at rapid speed, making it an unwieldy animal to control if released into the wild. A female nutria averages about five young per litter, but can birth as many as 13 at a time. A female can breed again within two days after giving birth, meaning one nutria can have up to three litters per year.
To get a sense of their productivity, 20 nutria brought to Louisiana in the 1930s bred an estimated 20 million animals within two decades, according to a wildlife group in Maryland that tracks nutria data, quoted in a recent report by Louisiana journalist Chris Kirkham.
Although nutria were brought to all parts of the country, said Kirkhams report , warm weather in Louisiana has boosted their numbers. Already under pressure from saltwater intrusion, the marshes also have to deal with the nutria and their voracious appetite for the vital marsh roots that keep wetlands intact.
Professor Attygalle and his biological colleagues, Professor Thomas Eisner and Steven Finckbeiner believe they have located the correct chemical compounds that offer an alternative to free-form hunting and trapping, or ecologically harmful poisoning, in the management of the nutria population.
Several volatile compounds, including terpenoids, fatty alcohols, fatty acids and some of their esters, were identified from solvent extracts prepared from anal scent glands of nutria, a.k.a. coypu,
|Contact: Patrick A. Berzinski|
Stevens Institute of Technology