Role of the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) in the epidemiology of existent and (re)emerging diseases in the urban landscape of Vienna

Norway rats (also called brown rats) originated in Northern East Asia and have been introduced by people all over the world except Antarctica. Although in their native habitat they live in forests and bushy areas, the introduced populations primarily inhabit human settlements. (Photo Reg Mckenna via Wikimedia Commons
photo of a brown rat 1
Rats like to live where people drop food, they are also regular guests in Vienna´s parks. (Photo Norvegicas via Wikimedia Commons)
photo of a Norwegian rat in the bush 2
Rats can often be found near canals and brooks. (Photo Hans-Jörg Hellwig via Wikimedia Commons)
photo of a brown rat near a river 3
Using marked live traps samples are being collected for the research project in Vienna´s parks. (Photo Amelie Desvars)
Photo of a rat trap 4
These signs clearly mark the traps to avoid misunderstandings. (Photo Amelie Desvars)
Sign about the project 5

Cities are growing world-wide and serve as hubs for the introduction and spread of pathogens. In order to offer urban residents a more relaxing and healthier environment, many cities develop green zones and recreation infrastructure near water bodies, where people can exercise or just enjoy better air and nature. However, the planning of green areas also has an impact on the composition of urban wildlife communities and the infectious dynamics of zoonotic pathogens (pathogens transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa) and arthropod vectors. The urban context also promotes general synanthropic species, i.e. animals that feel comfortable in the human environment - e.g. the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus).

Urban rodents such as the rat are often not popular with inhabitants, as they eat and contaminate human and animal food, can cause fires (by gnawing through electric wires), and can damage property and thus cause financial losses. In addition, rats play a significant role in the transmission of a large number of zoonotic pathogens. The role of rats as carriers of pathogens in the wild has been extensively investigated, but studies in urban areas are rare. 

Due to the risk of diseases and damage caused by rats, the Austrian government has combated them through rat control measures since 1925. Rat control programmes have a major economic impact: they cost the city of Vienna about 5 million Euros annually. Despite these considerable costs and the increasing inefficiency of today's chemical rat control methods (due to a spread of genetic anticoagulant resistance in the rats) there is a striking lack of necessary data to improve existing pest control programs.

The main goals of this project are to investigate the ecology of the urban rat populations in Vienna, to analyze their resistance to rat poison, and to close knowledge gaps about the risk of transmission of infectious diseases to humans. The results are intended to contribute to the improvement of rat control and management strategies in Vienna.


This study has been approved by the Institute for Ethics and Animal Protection and the national authority according to §§ 26ff. of the Animal Testing Act 2012-TGV 2012.


Duration: 1. December 2015 - 30. November 2019


Scientific contact Amélie Desvars-Larrive, Conservation Medicine Unit 6, Forschungsinstitut für Wildtierkunde und Ökologie, Vetmeduni Vienna

T. +43 (1) 25077-7187

Email Amélie Desvars-Larrive



Publications 8 of our researchers.


Art/Science - an art project with rats

The artist Roland Maurmair is cooperating with the project. Graphic (c) Roland Maurmair
Drawing of a rat by Roland Maurmair 9

A rat with a golden tooth?

More info 10 on the art project


Photo gallery

Some photos  11of our field work.


General Contact


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