A continental-scale analysis of feral cat diet in Australia #ESA14


I’ll be presenting some of our feral cat work at the Ecological Society of Australia’s annual conference in Alice Springs next week. My talk is on Thursday 2 October 2014, at 11:15 in the Ellery Room D.

feral cat_3 Photo credit Tim Doherty

WHAT’S FOR DINNER? A CONTINENTAL-SCALE ANALYSIS OF FERAL CAT DIET IN AUSTRALIA
Tim Doherty, Dr Dave Algar, Dr Eddie Van Etten, Dr Neil Collier, Dr Rob Davis, Professor Chris Dickman, Dr Glenn Edwards, Dr Pip Masters, Russell Palmer, Dr Sue Robinson

Reducing the harmful impact of feral cats is a priority for conservation managers across the globe and success in achieving these aims requires a detailed understanding of feral cat ecology across a broad spectrum of environmental conditions. We reviewed the diet of the feral cat in Australia, seeking to identify biogeographical patterns in diet diversity and composition. We specifically sought to examine: (1) how consumption of prey groups varies across rainfall and latitudinal gradients, (2) the relationship between consumption of rabbits and other prey groups, and (3) how trophic diversity and composition differ between different climate-habitat regions. We modelled feral cat diet against latitude, longitude and climatic variables using 49 published and unpublished data sets. Feral cats consume or predate at least 400 vertebrate species in Australia, including predation of at least 28 Red List species. Consumption of arthropods, reptiles, rabbits and rodents varied with latitude. Consumption of medium-sized mammals was highest in the southeast and consumption of birds was highest on islands. Consumption of rabbits was negatively correlated with that of rodents and dasyurids. Our findings confirm that the feral cat is an opportunistic, generalist carnivore capable of exploiting a diverse range of prey across Australia. The feral cat uses a facultative feeding strategy, feeding mainly on rabbits when they are available, but exploiting other prey like small mammals when rabbits decrease in availability or are absent altogether. We discuss these results in the context of previous dietary studies on feral cats and other medium-sized carnivores from elsewhere in the world.

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