Optimal control of irrupting pest populations in a climate-driven ecosystem

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Irruptions of small consumer populations, driven by pulsed resources, can lead to adverse effects including the decline of indigenous species or increased disease spread. Broad-scale pest management to combat such effects benefits from forecasting of irruptions and an assessment of the optimal control conditions for minimising consumer abundance. We use a climate-based consumer-resource model to predict irruptions of a pest species (Mus musculus) population in response to masting (episodic synchronous seed production) and extend this model to account for broad-scale pest control of mice using toxic bait. The extended model is used to forecast the magnitude and frequency of pest irruptions under low, moderate and high control levels, and for different timings of control operations. In particular, we assess the optimal control timing required to minimise the frequency with which pests reach ‘plague’ levels, whilst avoiding excessive toxin use. Model predictions suggest the optimal timing for mouse control in beech forest, with respect to minimising plague time, is mid-September. Of the control regimes considered, a seedfall driven biannual-biennial regime gave the greatest reduction in plague time and plague years for low and moderate control levels. Although inspired by a model validated using house mouse populations in New Zealand forests, our modelling approach is easily adapted for application to other climate-driven systems where broad-scale control is conducted on irrupting pest populations.

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