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The Rat Population Continues to Grow in New York City
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8 Dec 2017 02:35 PM EST

-by Chanel Adams, Staff Writer; Image: A rat in the NYC Subway (Image Source: m01229 via Wikimedia Commons)

New York is a city of diverse people at every corner.

Students at Fordham University have found that it's also diverse in its growing population of rats, as well.

Rats have stayed in New York City since the 1700s and they're not leaving anytime soon. Since the late 1700s, Norwegian rats have taken over New York City's alleys, parks, basements, and sewers. They were transported on ships from France and England, and they never left the city, according to a new report.

Matthew Combs, a graduate student at Fordham University, learned about the diversity of rats and found that certain areas of New York City had more genetic diversity. For example, the Lower East Side and East Harlem have more rats, while Midtown has less. Residential areas are homes to rats rather than tourist areas.

Combs wrote a dissertation about the ecology and evolution of the urban rat population in NYC. His paper was a result of two years of work and collecting DNA samples from over 200 rats in Manhattan. He wanted to learn more about rats because he wants to know how it affects human beings. Understanding their interaction can help control the rat population in New York City.

Combs also found out that the ancestors of NYC's rats came off a boat around the same time that Alexander Hamilton traveled to America. He wants to know why these rats were allowed on in the first place. He warns that rats and human interaction will have a negative effect on the city.

“Rats are territorial. But that's not necessarily the whole story,” he was quoted saying by AOL News. “It also might be that trade doesn’t happen in New York City anymore.”

Now, he wants to investigate other areas in the U.S. such as New Jersey to compare the results. Robert Corrigan, an urban rodentologist (yes, that's an actual career) and consultant, said he can't wait to see where this new research leads them.

“Let me tell you something about the rats on the Upper West Side,” he says. “They would probably have some secrets for us. Because they’re all related, and they go way, way back.”

Combs remarked this project opened up his eyes to the rat population and how it evolved over 300 years, according to Metro.

“Rats are obviously very cryptic. They're not easily seen unless in a subway tunnel and not very much is known about their ecology and biology in cities,” Combs said. “Once you know what to look for, though, you definitely see them more often.”

According to Combs, 10 percent of rats stray away from their colony by escaping through the park or across a block. As they travel, they bring their genetic information with them through their fur and fecal matter, which is how Combs was able to identify them in “clusters” throughout certain neighborhoods. The rat population will continue to grow and not slow down anytime soon unless something helpful comes out of this ongoing research.

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