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Focus on predator ship rats

Dr Florian Pichlmueller’s research integrates genetic, genomic, ecological and statistical tools for a better understanding of invasive species and their effects on island ecosystems.

Many species in New Zealand, especially birds, evolved without the pressure of mammalian predators. They therefore often lack defence strategies, which makes them very vulnerable against predators, and consequently are facing a higher risk of extinction. Research into their predators is important.

Florian Pichlmueller

Florian Pichlmueller

Florian’s research focus is wild black rats (Rattus rattus), also called ship rats. Using population genetics analysis, next generation sequencing and modelling, he is exploring:

  • the dynamics and demography of natural rat populations in space and time;
  • biotic invasions, interaction and connectivity of populations;
  • evolutionary processes and population dynamics.

His current work, as a Genomics Aotearoa postdoctoral fellow in the High Quality Genomics project, is focused on improving a draft assembly of the ship rat genome, as well as doing a population genetics study using low coverage sequencing of ship rat samples from across New Zealand. These studies should provide a more in-depth understanding of their diversity than other molecular tools have been able to provide so far. It could help to understand complex invasion histories and explain why this species is so successful across such a breadth of habitats.

The project is collaborating across various disciplines with partners from academia, government and NGOs. The ultimate goal is an improvement of current pest management tools dealing with established and emerging invasive rodent species, and to implement the findings in an adaptation of management practices to protect endemic species.

First full genome of Rattus rattus

About Florian

It’s important to Florian that his work has a direct effect on the conservation of the unique flora and fauna of New Zealand. His past projects have centred around understanding rodent invasion histories across New Zealand using different molecular tools incorporating a phylogeographic aspect, which has led to interesting insights and unfolding of new questions. Phylogeography unravels the connectivity and relationships among populations in space and time. “Science often feels to me like going deep down a rabbit hole (albeit at times more stumbling than walking),” he says.

“Genomics Aotearoa is an exciting and engaging new platform, connecting young and emerging researchers with experts from different fields working on diverse projects, but often united with one quest - gaining an in-depth understanding of the genetic makeup of a species, which is the first (admittedly big) step in better understanding an organism.”

Florian’s areas of expertise:

  • Population genetics
  • Phylogeography and demography
  • Rodent biology
  • Invasion ecology
  • Conservation genetics
  • Genome assembly and variant calling