Interview with Trevor Sheffels: The Nutria Expert

Have you ever thought about the exciting careers related to invasive species? In this blog we introduce Trevor Sheffels, who has recently completed his Ph.D degree in Environmental Sciences and Resources at Portland State University. His research focused on addressing nutria management issues in the Pacific Northwest. Trevor had also completed his Master of Environmental Management degree at Portland State.

sheffels

Trevor Sheffels filling a needle with an anesthetic drug to sedate a nutria before attaching a radio transmitter to track activity/movement

 

Q. Why did you choose to focus your research on nutria?

A. The Oregon Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan lists the nutria (Myocastor coypus) as a species that is already causing impacts and requires further research and evaluation. Although regional feral nutria populations have been present for approximately eighty years and caused substantial damage, there was very little scientific research on nutria in the Pacific Northwest. As nutria populations continue to expand, the number of nutria damage complaints has increased recently as well. My graduate research focused on the regional status of nutria populations and potential solutions for reducing nutria damage. Both my Master’s report and Ph.D. dissertation are available online (links below).

 

Ed Martin_Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Ed Martin/ Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Q. Nutria has been a focus on both your Masterʻs and Ph.D research. How did your Masterʻs research differ from your Ph.D work?

A. As part of my Master’s work, I developed a regional nutria distribution and relative density map. A vital step in nutria management involves understanding the location and relative size of regional nutria populations. Past regional nutria distribution maps were outdated, incomplete, and lacked density information. The map I developed will be used to inform future nutria management efforts.

 

or_nutria_map

Q. How is this map useful?

A. The map can be used to develop spatial management strategies, identify potential locations for new invasions, and provide a basis for regional habitat suitability models. Since nutria inventories are not currently conducted, the map was created by systematically questioning fish and wildlife biologists who have a working knowledge of their respective areas.

Q. Have you discovered anything from this work?

A. We have discovered that nutria populations in the Pacific Northwest are larger and in more locations than were previously realized.

Q. Developing a map on nutria distribution is impressive. Was your map used as a part of your Ph.D research?

A. For my Ph.D. research, the map was used to test a temperature model I developed with others to spatially describe current and potential future suitable habitat for nutria in the region.

Q. What did you learn about nutria from the temperature model?

A. While the model showed that nutria are currently occupying most available habitat, it also suggested that nutria populations could potentially move east of the Cascade Mountains as the climate warms. I also attached radio telemetry devices to nutria to track behavior patterns in urban wetlands and discovered that nutria were more active during the daylight hours than has been reported in other regions.

Q. Is it possible to prevent the damage caused by nutria?

A. I documented that nutria can heavily damage young woody plants used for restoration efforts and demonstrated that plastic tree protection tubes can be effective in preventing feeding damage while the trees and shrubs become established. My hope is that all of these findings will be useful for current and future nutria management!

Q. I am sure we all hope that these findings can be useful in nutria management. Are there other ways we can inform people on the issues with nutria?

A. In addition to research, another important step in addressing the regional nutria issue is public outreach and education. Many people do not even realize that the nutria is a non-native species, so I gave many public presentations to increase awareness and share why nutria can be so harmful to the environment.

Q. Can you suggest a way we can make people feel they can do something active to address the nutria issue?

A. Land managers who recognize nutria as a threat need to know how to address the problem. I organized two regional nutria workshops to facilitate regional communication and cooperation, provide general information about nutria, highlight current nutria control and eradication research, and discuss future regional nutria management strategies. Participants came away from the workshops with the desire and tools to address the nutria problem, and that is exciting to me!

Master’s report: http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1023&context=centerforlakes_pub

Ph.D. dissertation: http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1664&context=open_access_etds

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3 Responses to Interview with Trevor Sheffels: The Nutria Expert

  1. Noelle says:

    In western France, they make nutria pâté and other tasty dishes. Look up “pâté de ragondin” to find recipes. There’s quite a mail order business for small jars priced at the equivalent of $8 each. As long as our wine industry is booming, maybe start calling nutria, “gourmet ragondin.”

  2. marcy kimler says:

    Used mobile device w extreme small print when link to this article. Previous typos

  3. marcy kimler says:

    Learning of nutria in central Oregon and their long-time resistance. Appears they have invaded households and are currently occupying a storage warehouse I own. The animals have burrowed through a neighboring field near ochoco creek; causing exterior and interior damages to my building. I am at odds what action to take; have not the funds to hire recommended experts; the fear of bacteria and parasites overwhelms me; the thought if my personal effects at risk and my property overtaken as a breeding grounds. I see nowhere on these target maps any indication of nutria existence though hearing they have,infested homes in nearby towns and have,been in area for years. I am creeper out and paralyzed to deal with this.

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