The ratting of North America: A 350-year retrospective on Rattus species compositions and competition

Eric Guiry*, Ryan Kennedy, David Orton, Philip Armitage, John Bratten, Charles Dagneau, Shannon Dawdy, Susan deFrance, Barry Gaulton, David Givens, Olivia Hall, Anne Laberge, Michael Lavin, Henry Miller, Mary F. Minkoff, Tatiana Niculescu, Stéphane Noël, Barnet Pavao-Zuckerman, Leah Stricker, Matt TeeterMartin Welker, Jennifer Wilkoski, Paul Szpak, Michael Buckley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While the impacts of black (Rattusrattus) and brown (Rattusnorvegicus) rats on human society are well documented—including the spread of disease, broad-scale environmental destruction, and billions spent annually on animal control—little is known about their ecology and behavior in urban areas due to the challenges of studying animals in city environments. We use isotopic and ZooMS analysis of archaeological (1550s–1900 CE) rat remains from eastern North America to provide a large-scale framework for species arrival, interspecific competition, and dietary ecology. Brown rats arrived earlier than expected and rapidly outcompeted black rats in coastal urban areas. This replacement happened despite evidence that the two species occupy different trophic positions. Findings include the earliest molecularly confirmed brown rat in the Americas and show a deep ecological structure to how rats exploit human-structured areas, with implications for understanding urban zoonosis, rat management, and ecosystem planning as well as broader themes of rat dispersal, phylogeny, evolutionary ecology, and climate impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereadm6755
Number of pages11
JournalScience Advances
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
this project was supported by the Social Science and humanities Research council of canada (Banting postdoctoral fellowship, to e.G.), the leverhulme trust and British Academy (leverhulme/BA Small Grant, to e.G.), the Wenner-Gren Foundation (fieldwork dissertation grant, to e.G.), and United Kingdom Research and innovation (Frontiers in Research grant, to d.O. and e.G.). charleston data were collected in part by a US national Science Foundation Award (BcS #1920835, to B.P.-Z.).

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© 2024 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All rights reserved.

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