First Advisor

Mark D. Sytsma

Date of Publication

Winter 3-7-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Environmental Sciences and Resources


Environmental Science and Management




Coypu -- Habitat -- Pacific Northwest, Urban pests -- Control -- Pacific Northwest, Introduced animals -- Ecology -- Pacific Northwest



Physical Description

1 online resource (xiii, 138 pages)


The nutria (Myocastor coypus) is a semi-aquatic rodent native to South America that was introduced to the Pacific Northwest, USA, in the 1930s. Primary damage categories from this invasive species include burrowing and herbivory, resulting in habitat degradation. Nutria have become well-established in metropolitan habitats, and anecdotal information suggests the problem has increased in recent years. However, little regional research on the species has been conducted. The scope of this research, which emphasizes metropolitan habitats, includes three primary foci in relation to nutria populations in the Pacific Northwest: modeling habitat suitability, assessing activity and movement patterns, and identifying and managing negative impacts. Large-scale management of any invasive species requires understanding of the current and potential future population distribution. Cold temperatures have been assumed to be a limiting factor for the geographic distribution of nutria populations, but this assumption had not been explicitly tested. A mechanistic habitat suitability model based on winter temperatures performed well in predicting nutria distribution in the Pacific Northwest and nationally. Regional results suggest nutria currently occupy most accessible suitable habitat. However, coupling the model with future climate change data suggests a much larger suitable habitat zone regionally and nationally in the near future. Management of an invasive species on a local scale requires region-specific information about behavior patterns. Radio-telemetry tracking of local nutria populations in metropolitan habitats suggested higher diurnal activity levels than reported elsewhere. Activity areas were also on the lower end of reported nutria home ranges, suggesting the studied metropolitan wetland sites represent core habitat for nutria in the region. Comparison of two transmitter attachment methods, a neck collar and a tail mount, did not identify a clearly superior attachment method for short-term nutria behavior studies. The presence of nutria in metropolitan habitats in the Pacific Northwest necessitates the need to expand the limited management techniques available for these habitats. Standard Vexar® plastic mesh tubes very effectively mitigated nutria herbivory damage to woody vegetation live stakes planted in a metropolitan habitat restoration site. A recently developed nutria multiple-capture cage trap captured larger nutria and reduced non-target captures compared to a standard cage trap. The design of the multiple-capture trap, however, prevented multiple-capture events because small nutria escaped the trap. This research contributes substantially to previously limited information about nutria in the Pacific Northwest and resulted in several new findings. Climate change modeling provides the first evidence that nutria ranges could expand in the near future. Evaluation of new radio-telemetry methods will benefit future behavior studies. The assessment of new damage prevention tools provides more options for the management of nutria in urban habitats. Management recommendations include creating regional nutria management plans, identifying and targeting priority monitoring regions, finding key stakeholders, focusing on public education, and initiating a pilot control program. Recommendations for research include evaluating effects on native fauna, conducting disease surveys, assessing the extent of damage, continuing habitat suitability analysis, and developing population indices.


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