A historical perspective on the effects of trapping and controlling the muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) in the Netherlands

Loon, E.E. van; Bos, Daan; Hellenberg Hubar, Caspara J. van; Ydenberg, Ron C.


BACKGROUND: The muskrat is considered to be a pest species in the Netherlands, and a year-round control programme is in effect. We aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of this programme using historical data on catch and effort collected at a provincial scale. RESULTS: The development of the catch differed between provinces, depending on the year of colonisation by muskrat and the investment of effort (measured as field hours). The catch did not peak in the same year for the various provinces, and provinces that were colonised earlier in time took longer to attain the peak catch. Trapping resulted in declining populations, but only after a certain threshold of annual effort in trapping had been surpassed. On average, populations were observed to decline when the annual effort exceeded 1.4 field hours per km of waterway for several successive years. Having reached a phase of greater control, control organisations tended to reduce effort. CONCLUSION: We conclude that control measures can make muskrat populations decline, provided that the effort is commensurate with the population size. Our study emphasises that experimentation is needed to confirm the causality of the findings, to establish the relation with damage or safety risk and to derive an optimal control strategy.