Helsinki Urban Rat Project is a multidisciplinary research project dedicated to understand the dynamics of urban rats and their effects on the urban life in Helsinki.
During the millennia, humans and rats have adapted to live in urban environments. The sharing of common habitat has not been without its problems. Urban rats can cause structural damage to buildings, eat foodstuffs and carry zoonotic diseases. For these natural aspects of their lives, humans have been afrad of rats and hated rats. In most developed cities, there are continuous operations against rats to try limit their population sizes and get rid of rats in wrong places from human perspective. These are costly and quite often ineffective.
From researchers point of view, rats offer an unique opportunity to do basic science. Rats live in highly controlled and well-known environments, mesocosms of one sort. We have ample amounts of biotic and abiotic spatial data on Helsinki city area, due to open data collected by the city for other purposes. This can be used to analyze how climate, weather, urban structures, urban nature or history affect the rat populations. In turn, the same data can be used to study parasite and disease spread between rats.
Rats elicit strong emotional reactions from humans. Thus they are also an interesting study subject for human-wildlife conflict. Actually, it might one the most important conflicts humans have as it is truly a global conflict which have been going on for millennia. We are also far from solving this conflict and it is surprisingly little studied. Nevertheless, the urbanization leads to more and more people living in cities, with more and more contact with urban rats.
We will use citizen science apporaches to understand rat population dynamics over the whole city of Helsinki and at the same time offer people an opportunity to reflect their relationship with rats. Citizen science is an obvious approach here, as the local residents have usually a solid understanding where the rat hotspots in each neighbourhood are. Urban nature is usually seen in positive light, while rats are seen in negative light. We will explore this conflict and how humans and rats can best cohabit the urban areas.