Towards a genetic approach to invasive rodent eradications: assessing reproductive competitiveness between wild and laboratory mice

M. Serr, N. Heard and J. Godwin,  Island invasives: scaling up to meet the challenge,  2019.

House mice are significant invasive pests, particularly on islands without native mammalian predators. As part of a multi-institutional project aimed at suppressing invasive mouse populations on islands, we aim to create heavily male-biased sex ratios with the goal of causing the populations to crash. Effective implementation of this approach will depend on engineered F1 wild-lab males being effective secondary invaders that can mate successfully. As a first step in assessing this possibility, we are characterising genetic and behavioural differences between Mus musculus strains in terms of mating and fecundity using wild house mice derived from an invasive population on the Farallon Islands (MmF), a laboratory strain C57BL/6/129 (tw2), and F1 wild-lab off spring. Mice with the ‘t allele’ (tw2) have a naturally occurring gene drive system. To assess fertility in F1 wild-lab crosses, tw2 males were paired with wild-derived females from the Farallon Islands (MmF). Results of these matings indicate litter sizes are comparable but that weaned pup and adult wild-lab mice are heavier in mass. Next, we initiated tests of male competitiveness using larger (3 m2 ) enclosures with enrichment. We introduced both an MmF and a tw2-bearing male to two MmF females to assess mating outcomes. Preliminary results of these experiments show none of the offspring carried the t-allele. However, performing the same experiment with F1 wildlab males instead of a full lab background resulted in 70% of off spring carrying the t w2 allele. This indicates that F1 wildlab males may be able to successfully compete and secondarily invade. It will be important in subsequent experiments to determine what characteristics contribute to secondary invasion success. More generally, a better understanding of characteristics contributing to overall success in increasingly complex and naturalistic environments will be critical in determining the potential of a gene drive-based eradication approach for invasive mice on islands