HURP Autumn Webinars 2023

Four years of multidisciplinary rat research is winding to an end and thus Helsinki Urban Rat Project, affectionately known as HURP, organizes a series of international webinars to highlight different aspects of rats’ lives.

Last year a German documentary crew asked whether rat researchers have meetings together as there are quite many of us. Many of us have met in different setting, but not in rat-themed meetings. Thus, to facilitate rat discussions across the world, we have invited an international smörgåsbord of  researchers and topics to participate. These webinars are open to all curious explorers of rats.

HURP is grounded in interdisciplinarity, diversity and curiousness. Thus our early-career researchers have organized a series of webinars based on these characteristics. Each webinar is a meeting points for natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and other fields of science from researchers in different career stages across the world. Three webinars involve 15 minute talks by participants on the common theme and open discussion. Last session is a panel discussion on the management (or persecution?) of rat populations and individuals.

We invite all rat researchers and other curious people to participate!



Rats are synanthropic, i.e., they live right along humans and are very dependent on humans. Ecologists talk about ecological niches, which determine where species can thrive or survive, pest management guidelines talk about FWAH - food, water and harborage - that are necessary for any pests and human-animal scholars talk about cohabitation, living alongside each other. How can different scholarly fields illuminate the phenomena related to the living very close to each other?

This session is convened and chaired by Virpi Valtonen, postdoctoral research in Helsinki Urban Rat Project, who studies rats, other species and humans sharing space from educational science point of view.


Presenters for the session:

What goes around comes around: Human-rat interactions as a coupled system in Chicago

Dr. Maureen Murray is the Wildlife Disease Ecologist at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute. Her research focuses on how living in urban environments can affect the health of wildlife and people, particularly through human-wildlife interactions in social-ecological systems.

Attitudes of Dutch pest controllers and their clients towards rodent welfare and management

Maite Van Gerwen has her own consultancy company Animo Animalis and works as a PhD Candidate at Utrecht University’s faculty of Veterinary Medicine. With a background in Animal Sciences and post academic education in Human Behavior Change and Mediation, Maite focuses on improving animal welfare and mediating human-animal conflicts. In her PhD she works on the development of an assessment framework for an ethical management of rodents seen as pest animals.

Rat-Proofing, Infrastructure, and Imperialism

Jules Skotnes-Brown is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews. He is a historian of animals, science, and colonialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Jules is currently working on a global history of rats, plague, and capitalist infrastructure in the twentieth century.

Rats are the masters of dispersal: originating from the East Asia and spreading all over the globe. We, the humans, tend to worry about how rats get in different places, whether is grain silo, sewage system or trash can, and there are only so much that we can do to prevent rats from moving around. Indeed, context matters: New York rat moves on a quite small area during its lifetime, only tens or hundreds of meters, whereas that one rat in New Zealand swam 400 meters across open water. What do we know about rat movement then and now?

This session is convened and chaired by Santtu Pentikäinen, PhD researcher in Helsinki Urban Rat Project, who studies rat movement ecology in urban landscapes.

Presenters for the session:

Genomic signatures of survival and demographic recovery of urban Norway rats following a catastrophic disaster 

Dr. Michael Blum is a Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee. His research examines how rodent responses to counter-urbanization can potentially elevate pathogen transmission risk in historically underserved communities. Much of his work examines outcomes of catastrophic disasters, including outcomes driven by public policy decisions.

There's more than one way to track a rat: Insights from multiple movement methods

Dr. Kaylee Byers (she/her) is a One Health scientist and health communications researcher investigating ways to improve the health of people, animals, and ecosystems. She is a Senior Scientist with the Pacific Institute on Pathogens, Pandemics and Society at Simon Fraser University and Deputy Director of the British Columbia Node of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative. For the past decade she has studied urban rats and has been an active science communicator.

"The foulest, most ferocious, and noxious of the genus" - tracing the remarkable dispersal of brown rats from archaeological and written evidence

David Orton is a zooarchaeologist at University of York interested in past urbanism and trade connections. He is currently leading a major new 5-year project on the archaeology of black and brown rats in and around Europe.

If there is one thing that everybody knows about rats, it is that they carry diseases, especially zoonoses, capable of transmitting those to humans. From Black Death to leptospirosis, rats have a bad reputation. How did rats came up with that reputation and how warranted it actually is? 

This session is convened and chaired by Heta Lähdesmäki, postdoctoral researcher in Helsinki Urban Rat Project, who studies the history of bird feeding and rat wards in Helsinki.

Presenters for the session:

One Health in the past: First insights into medieval rodents as animal reservoirs for plague and leprosy

Verena Schünemann works at the University of Basel as a professor of archeological sciences. Her research focuses on ancient pathogen genomics, and her mission is to uncover the long-term evolution of pathogens and their interactions with the environment. 

Pathogen risks posed by humans to urban rats: a case of campylobacteria

Tuomas Aivelo works as Academy Research Fellow in the University of Helsinki and leads multidisciplinary Helsinki Urban Rat Project. While a disease ecologist at heart, he has also done scholarly work in environmental and science education, especially with citizen science.

How Plague Got Rats

Christos Lynteris is Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of St Andrews. His research has pioneered the anthropological study of zoonotic diseases.

Humans kill lots of rats, that is undeniable. Rodent control at large is not very sustainable in a sense that to keep status quo killing needs to continue. There is also a broad consensus that suffering related to the rodent control should be minimized. After this, the opinions differ. How do we control rat populations in future to minimize conflicts between humans and rats? How do we control humans to minimize those conflicts? Is there places where we need to get rid of rats, period, and are there places that rats can roam more freely?

This panel discussion is convened and chaired by Karolina Lukasik, postdoctoral researcher in Helsinki Urban Rat Project, who studies multispecies conflicts in urban allotment gardens.

Discussants for the session:

James Russell is a Professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He specialises in island conservation and eradication at the interface of animal and environmental ethics.


Gabriela Jarzębowska is assistant professor at the University of Warsaw. Her PhD was devoted to cultural and social aspects of rat control in postwar Poland. It was published in Polish in 2021 and is currentlyy being translated to English.

Andrew McCumber is a sociology PhD and a postdoctoral fellow at Stony Brook University’s Institute for Advanced Computational Science. His book project on rat control, nature, and cultural meaning is under contract at University of Chicago Press.