Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 5, 2014

Relative age determination of Rattus tiomanicus using allometric measurements

  • Aude Verwilghen EMAIL logo , Marie-Agnès Rabillard , Yannick Chaval , Dominique Rieffel , Martua Hasiholan Sinaga , Mohd Naim , Jean-Pierre Caliman , Patrick Giraudoux and Francis Raoul
From the journal Mammalia


For sustainable oil palm production, barn owl (Tyto alba) predation should be enhanced and monitored to better understand its impact on rodent population dynamics, notably for selective predation based on age or size. Our aim was to assess the best combination of osteometric variables that predict eye lens weight and thus the relative age of an individual Rattus tiomanicus based on pellet remains. We captured 161 individuals in an oil palm plantation in Indonesia and measured 15 osteometric variables for the jaw, skull, and femur. We investigated the variables’ correlations with eye lens weight and estimated the measurement errors. In addition, 120 pellets were collected to assess the frequency of different types of bones. Predictive modelling was then used. We suggest that the model using the femur length would be more appropriate, even if it is slightly less precise than the models that consider the skull and jaw variables. The femur was well represented in the pellet sample, its length highly correlated with the eye lens weight, with a low measurement error. Our study demonstrates the utility of femur length for age prediction in prey from macroremains in oil palm plantations, wherein most pellets are headless and R. tiomanicus is the dominant prey.

Corresponding author: Aude Verwilghen, CIRAD, UPR Systèmes de pérennes, TA B-34/02, Avenue Agropolis, F-34398 Montpellier, France; and Department of Chrono-environment, UMR UFC/CNRS 6249 aff. INRA, University of Franche-Comté, Place Leclerc, 25030 Besançon cedex, France, e-mail:


We thank the technicians from SMARTRI who helped with the fieldwork as well as PTSmart Tbk for their accommodation and for providing access to the facilities and plantation. We are grateful to the State Ministry of Research and Technology of Indonesia, which supported this research (0131/SIP:FRP/SM/V/2011).


Andru, J., J.F. Cosson, J.P. Caliman and E. Benoit. 2013. Coumatetralyl resistance of Rattus tanezumi infesting oil palm plantations in Indonesia. Ecotoxicology 22: 377–396.10.1007/s10646-012-1032-ySearch in Google Scholar

Aplin, K.P., P.B. Brown, J. Jacob, C.J. Krebs and G.R. Singleton. 2003. Field methods for rodent studies in Asia and the Indo-Pacific. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Canberra. pp. 223.Search in Google Scholar

Augusteyn, R.C. 2008. Growth of the lens: in vitro observations. Clin. Exp. Optom. 91: 226–239.10.1111/j.1444-0938.2008.00255.xSearch in Google Scholar

Bailey, R.C. and J. Byrnes. 1990. A new, old method for assessing measurement error in both univariate and multivariate morphometric studies. Syst. Zool. 39: 124–130.Search in Google Scholar

Barnett, A. and J. Dutton. 1995. Expedition field techniques: small mammals (excluding bats). Royal Geographical Society, London. pp. 131.Search in Google Scholar

Bonnaud, E., E. Vidal, D. Zarzoso-Lacoste and F. Torre. 2008. Measuring rodent incisors from scats can increase accuracy of predator diet studies: an illustration based on island cats and rats. C. R. Biol. 331: 686–691.10.1016/j.crvi.2008.07.001Search in Google Scholar

Buckle, A.P., T.H. Chia, M.G.P. Fenn and M. Visvalingam. 1997. Ranging behaviour and habitat utilisation of the Malayan wood rat (Rattus tiomanicus) in an oil palm plantation in Johore, Malaysia. Crop Prot. 16: 467–473.10.1016/S0261-2194(97)00010-0Search in Google Scholar

Bueno, A.d.A. and J.C. Motta-Junior. 2008. Small mammal prey selection by two owl species in southeastern Brazil. J. Raptor Res. 42: 248–255.10.3356/JRR-07-37.1Search in Google Scholar

Bunn, D.S., A.B. Warburton and R.D.S. Wilson. 1982. The barn owl. T.&A.D. Poyser, London. pp. 264.Search in Google Scholar

Burlet, P., P. Deplazes and D. Hegglin. 2010. Efficient age determination: how freezing affects eye lens weight of the small rodent species Arvicola terrestris. Eur. J. Wildl. Res. 56: 685–688.10.1007/s10344-010-0390-0Search in Google Scholar

Burnham, K.P. and D.R. Anderson. 2002. Model selection and multi-model inference: a practical information – theoretic approach (2nd edition). Springer-Verlag, New York. pp. 488.Search in Google Scholar

Chia, T.H. 2005. Rat control in oil palm plantations: a review. Planter 81: 15–26.Search in Google Scholar

Chia, T.H., J.L. Lim and A. Buckle. 1995. Barn owls for rat control on oil palm plantations – do they work? Planter 71: 109–117.Search in Google Scholar

Clairon, N., D. Lepicard, D. Dumas, D. Chavernac, G.A. Dehne, S. Piry, F. Dorkeld and Y. Chaval. 2010. Rodent SEA: a web service for rodent species identification in South-East Asia. Available at Accessed 3 October, 2012.Search in Google Scholar

Claude, J. 2008. Morphometrics with R. Springer, New York. pp. 336.Search in Google Scholar

Corbett, G.B. and J.E. Hill. 1992. The mammals of the Indomalay region: a systematic review. Natural History Museum Publications, Oxford University Press, New York. pp. 488.Search in Google Scholar

Corley, R.H.V. and P.B. Tinker. 2003. The oil palm. 4th edition. Blackwell Sciences Ltd., Oxford. pp. 592.Search in Google Scholar

Dickman, C.R., M. Predavec and A.J. Lynam. 1991. Differential predation of size and sex classes of mice by the barn owl, Tyto alba. Oikos 62: 67–76.Search in Google Scholar

Duckett, J.E. 1976. Owls as major predators of rats in oil palm estates with particular reference to the barn owl (Tyto alba). Planter 52: 4–15.Search in Google Scholar

Duckett, J.E. 2008. The expansion of range and population of the Barn owl (Tyto alba javanica) in Peninsular Malaysia and in Sumatra and adjacent islands: a review and update on the current situation. Planter 84: 799–807.Search in Google Scholar

Figueroa, R., A. Ricardo, J.R. Rau, S. Mayorga, D.R. Martínez, E.S. Corales, S.A. Mansilla and R. Figueroa M. 2009. Rodent prey of the barn owl Tyto alba and short-eared owl Asio flammeus during winter in agricultural lands in Southern Chile. Wildl. Biol. 15: 129–136.10.2981/08-005Search in Google Scholar

Friend, M. 1967. A review of research concerning eye lens weight as a criteria of age in animals. N. Y. Fish Game J. 14:152–165.Search in Google Scholar

Galan, M., M. Pagès and J.-F. Cosson. 2012. Next-generation sequencing for rodent barcoding: species identification from fresh, degraded and environmental samples. PLoS ONE 7: e48374. Accessed 12 November, 2012.10.1371/journal.pone.0048374Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Gliwicz, J. and E. Jancewicz. 2001. Aging and cohort dynamics in Sorex shrews. Acta Theriol. 46: 225–234.10.4098/AT.arch.01-25Search in Google Scholar

Granjon, L. and M. Traoré. 2007. Prey selection by barn owls in relation to small-mammal community and population structure in a Sahelian agro-ecosystem. J. Trop. Ecol. 23: 199–208.10.1017/S026646740600383XSearch in Google Scholar

Hafidzi, M.N. 1994. Natural predation: a viable option for controlling vertebrate pest in Malaysia. Planter 70: 161–172.Search in Google Scholar

Hafidzi, M.N. and M. Naim. 2003. Prey selection by barn owl in rice fields in Malaysia. In: (G.R. Singleton, L. A. Hinds, C.J. Krebs and D.M.D Spratt eds.) Rats, mice and people: rodent biology and management. Australian Center for International Agriculture Research, Canberra. pp. 220–223.Search in Google Scholar

Hafidzi, M.N. and M.K. Saayon. 2001. Status of rat infestation and recent control strategies in oil palm plantations in Peninsular Malaysia. Pertanika J. Trop. Agric. Sci. 24: 109–114.Search in Google Scholar

Hardy, A.R., R.J. Quy and L.W. Huson. 1983. Estimation of age in the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus Beerkenhout) from the weight of the eye lens. J. Appl. Ecol. 20: 97–102.10.2307/2403378Search in Google Scholar

Herbreteau V., S. Jittapalapong, W. Rerkamnuaychoke, Y. Chaval, J.-F. Cosson and S. Morand, eds. 2011. Protocols for field and laboratory rodent studies. Retrieved from CERoPath project: Accessed 14 April, 2012.Search in Google Scholar

Jánová, E., J. Nesvadbová and E. Tkadlec. 2007. Is the eye lens method of age estimation reliable in voles? Folia Zool. 56: 119–125.Search in Google Scholar

Kittlein, M.J. 1997. Assessing the impact of owl predation on the growth rate of a rodent prey population. Ecol. Model. 103: 123–134.10.1016/S0304-3800(97)00078-1Search in Google Scholar

Lalis, A., E. Lecompte, R. Cornette, S. Moulin, R.S. Machangu, R. Makundi, V.M. Aniskine and C. Denys. 2006. Polymorphism of the age population structure of two wild Mastomys natalensis (Rodentia: Muridae) Tanzanian habitat samples: a multicriteria comparison. Mammalia 70: 293–299.10.1515/MAMM.2006.052Search in Google Scholar

Leirs, H. 1994. Population ecology of Mastomys natalensis (Smith, 1984). Implications for rodents control in Africa. Agricultural Edition 35, Belgian Administration for Development Cooperation, Brussels. pp. 268.Search in Google Scholar

Le Louarn, H. 1971. Détermination de l’âge par la pesée du cristallin chez quelques espèces de rongeurs. Mammalia 35: 636–643.10.1515/mamm.1971.35.4.636Search in Google Scholar

Lenton, G.M. 1980. Biological control of rats in oil palm by owls. In: (J.I. Furtad, ed.) Proceedings of the 5th International Symposium of Tropical Ecology “Tropical Ecology and Development”, 16–21 April 1979. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. pp. 615–621.Search in Google Scholar

Lenton, G.M. 1984. The feeding and breeding ecology of barn owls Tyto alba in Peninsular Malaysia. Ibis 126: 551–575.10.1111/j.1474-919X.1984.tb02080.xSearch in Google Scholar

Leveau, L.M., P. Teta, R. Bogdaschewski and U.F.J. Pardiñas. 2006. Feeding habits of the barn owl (Tyto alba) along a longitudinal-latitudinal gradient in central Argentina. Ornitol. Neotrop. 17: 353–362.Search in Google Scholar

Liau, S.S. 1990. Rat population in oil palm replants and crop loss assessment (Malaysia). 3rd International Conference on Plant Protection in the Tropics, 20–23 Mar 1990. Malaysian Plant Protection Society, Kuala Lumpur. pp. 8–18.Search in Google Scholar

Liau, S.S., C.G. Fee, S.C. Sim and C.T. Ho. 1993. Rat species composition and distribution in West Malaysian plantations (with particular reference to oil palm plantations). In: (Y. Basiron, S. Jalani, K.C. Chang, S.C. Cheah, I. E Henson, N. Kamarudin, K. Paranjothy, N. Rajanaidu, D. Tayeb and D. Ariffin, eds.) Proceedings of the 1991 PORIM International Palm Oil Conference – Progress, Prospects & Challenges Towards the 21st Century, Module I Agriculture. 9–14 September 1991. Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. pp. 511–516.Search in Google Scholar

Lim, J.L., M.G.P. Fenn, A.P. Buckle, M. Visvalingam and J.K. Ward. 1991. Prey selection by barn owls (Tyto alba) and its impact on rat control in oil palm plantations. In: (Y. Basiron, S. Jalani, K.C. Chang, S.C. Cheah, I.E. Henson, N. Kamarudin, K. Paranjothy, N. Rajanaidu, D. Tayeb and D. Ariffin, eds.) Proceedings of the 1991 PORIM International Palm Oil Conference – Progress, Prospects & Challenges Towards the 21st Century, Module I Agriculture. 9–14 September 1991. Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. pp. 458–465.Search in Google Scholar

Lim, J.L., M. Visvalingam, A.P. Buckle, J.K. Ward and M.G.P. Fenn. 1993. Prey selection by Barn Owls (Tyto alba) in an oil palm plantation in Malaysia. J. Plant Prot. 10: 185–192.Search in Google Scholar

Lord, R.D. 1959. The lens as an indicator of age in cotton-tail rabbits. J. Wildl. Manage. 23: 358–360.10.2307/3796900Search in Google Scholar

Medway, L. and G.C. Yong. 1970. Barn owl pellets from Kulai, Johore. Malay. Nat. J. 23: 171–172.Search in Google Scholar

Morris, P. 1972. A review of mammalian age determination methods. Mammal Rev. 2: 69–104.10.1111/j.1365-2907.1972.tb00160.xSearch in Google Scholar

Morris, P. 1979. Rats in the diet of the Barn owl (Tyto alba). J. Zool. 189: 540–545.10.1111/j.1469-7998.1979.tb03983.xSearch in Google Scholar

Myers, K., J. Carstairs and N. Gilbert. 1977. Determination of age of indigenous rats in Australia. J. Wildl. Manage. 41: 322–326.10.2307/3800616Search in Google Scholar

Oil World. 2012. Oil World annual 2012. Oil World, Hamburg.Search in Google Scholar

Pagès, M., Y. Chaval, V. Herbreteau, S. Waengsothorn, J.F. Cosson, J.P. Hugot, S. Morand and J. Michaux. 2010. Revisiting the taxonomy of the Rattini tribe: a phylogeny-based delimitation of species boundaries. BMC Evol. Biol. 10: 1–27.10.1186/1471-2148-10-184Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Poulet, A.R. 1980. Détermination de l’âge par la pesée des cristallins chez cinq espèces de rongeurs Muridés et Gerbillidés de l’ouest de l’Afrique. Mammalia 44: 381–398.10.1515/mamm.1980.44.3.381Search in Google Scholar

Puan, C.L., A.W. Goldizen, M. Zakaria, M.N. Hafidzi and G.S. Baxter. 2011. Absence of differential predation on rats by Malaysian barn owls in oil palm plantations. J. Raptor Res. 45: 71–78.10.3356/JRR-10-18.1Search in Google Scholar

Pucek, Z. and V.P.W. Lowe. 1975. Age criteria in small mammals. In: (F.B. Golley, K. Petrusewicz and L. Ryskowski, eds.) Small mammals: their productivity and population dynamics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp. 55–72.Search in Google Scholar

Quéré, J.-P., P. Giraudoux, P. Delattre and B. Faivre. 1994. Détermination de la structure en âge relatif d’une population de Microtus arvalis (Rongeurs, Arvicolidés) par mesures ostéométriques crâniennes ou mandibulaires. Mammalia 58: 269–282.Search in Google Scholar

Rowe, F.P., A. Bradfield, R.J. Quy and T. Swinney. 1985. Relationship between eye lens weight and age in the wild house mouse (Mus muculus). J. Appl. Ecol. 22: 55–61.10.2307/2403326Search in Google Scholar

Saint Girons, M.-C. 1973. L’âge des micromammifères dans le régime de deux rapaces nocturnes, Tyto alba et Asio otus. Mammalia 37: 439–456.Search in Google Scholar

Sherfy, M.H., T.A. Mollett, K.R. McGowan and S.L. Daugherty. 2006. A reexamination of age-related variation in body weight and morphometry of Maryland Nutria. J. Wildl. Manag. 70: 1132–1141.10.2193/0022-541X(2006)70[1132:AROAVI]2.0.CO;2Search in Google Scholar

Shi, L., R.-X. Zai, X.-Y. Ma and Y.-H. Zhou. 2006. Studies on age and reproduction of Tianshan vole (Microtus ilaeus). Xinjiang Agricultural Sciences 43: 498–502.Search in Google Scholar

Shrestha, P.D.D., T. Yabe and T. Kusano. 2002. Eye-lens weight curve for estimation of age in rats, Rattus rattus brunneus and Bandicota bengalensis in Nepal. Mamm. Study 27: 87–89.Search in Google Scholar

Small, C.M. 1990. Research on the use of barn owls Tyto alba for biological control of rats in oil palm plantations: 1986–1989. In: (S. Jalani, Z.Z. Zin, K. Paranjothy, D. Ariffin, N. Rajanaidu, S.C. Cheah, M.W. Basri and I. E Henson, eds.) Proceedings of the 1989 PORIM International Palm Oil Conference. 5–9 September 1989. Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. pp. 342–356.Search in Google Scholar

Tanikawa, T. 1993. An eye-lens weight curve for determining age in black rats, Rattus rattus. J. Mammal. Soc. Jpn. 18: 49–51.Search in Google Scholar

Trejo, A. and N. Guthmann. 2003. Owl selection on size and sex classes of rodents: activity and microhabitat use of prey. J. Mammal. 84: 652–658.10.1644/1545-1542(2003)084<0652:OSOSAS>2.0.CO;2Search in Google Scholar

Turner, P.D. and R.A. Gillbanks. 2003. Oil palm cultivation and management. The Incorporated Society of Planters, Kuala Lumpur. pp. 915.Search in Google Scholar

Williams, J.M. 1976. Determination of age of Polynesian rats. Proc. New Zeal. Ecol. Soc. 23: 79–82.10.1017/S0305004100052427Search in Google Scholar

Wilson, D.E. and D.M. Reeder, eds. 2005. Mammals species of the world. A taxonomic and geographic reference (3rd edition). Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. pp. 142.Search in Google Scholar

Wood, B.J. 1984. A long-term study of Rattus tiomanicus populations in an oil palm plantation in Johore, Malaysia: I. Study methods and population size without control. J. Appl. Ecol. 21: 445–464.Search in Google Scholar

Wood, B.J. and C.G. Fee. 2003. A critical review of the development of rat control in Malaysian agriculture since the 1960s. Crop Prot. 22: 445–461.10.1016/S0261-2194(02)00207-7Search in Google Scholar

Wood, B.J. and S.S. Liau. 1984a. A long-term study of Rattus tiomanicus populations in an oil palm plantation in Johore, Malaysia: II. Recovery from control and economic aspects. J. Appl. Ecol. 21: 465–472.Search in Google Scholar

Wood, B.J. and S.S. Liau. 1984b. A long-term study of Rattus tiomanicus populations in an oil palm plantation in Johore, Malaysia: III. Bionomics and natural regulation. J. Appl. Ecol. 21: 473–495.Search in Google Scholar

Yabe, T. and O. Arakawa. 2009. Eye-lens weight curve for estimation of age in the Japanese grass vole, Microtus montebelli Milne-Edwards (Rodentia: Muridae). Appl. Entomol. Zool. 44: 501–504.Search in Google Scholar

Yezeriniac, M.S., S.C. Lougheed and P. Handford. 1992. Measurements errors and morphometric studies: statistical power and observer experience. Syst. Biol. 41: 471–482.10.1093/sysbio/41.4.471Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2013-7-18
Accepted: 2014-1-30
Published Online: 2014-3-5
Published in Print: 2015-2-1

©2015 by De Gruyter

Downloaded on 5.12.2023 from
Scroll to top button