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Spatio-temporal variation in predation by urban domestic cats (Felis catus) and the acceptability of possible management actions in the UK

Thomas, R. L., Fellowes, M. D. E. ORCID: and Baker, P. J. (2012) Spatio-temporal variation in predation by urban domestic cats (Felis catus) and the acceptability of possible management actions in the UK. PLoS ONE, 7 (11). e49369. ISSN 1932-6203

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049369


Urban domestic cat (Felis catus) populations can attain exceedingly high densities and are not limited by natural prey availability. This has generated concerns that they may negatively affect prey populations, leading to calls for management. We enlisted cat-owners to record prey returned home to estimate patterns of predation by free-roaming pets in different localities within the town of Reading, UK and questionnaire surveys were used to quantify attitudes to different possible management strategies. Prey return rates were highly variable: only 20% of cats returned ≥4 dead prey annually. Consequently, approximately 65% of owners received no prey in a given season, but this declined to 22% after eight seasons. The estimated mean predation rate was 18.3 prey cat−1 year−1 but this varied markedly both spatially and temporally: per capita predation rates declined with increasing cat density. Comparisons with estimates of the density of six common bird prey species indicated that cats killed numbers equivalent to adult density on c. 39% of occasions. Population modeling studies suggest that such predation rates could significantly reduce the size of local bird populations for common urban species. Conversely, most urban residents did not consider cat predation to be a significant problem. Collar-mounted anti-predation devices were the only management action acceptable to the majority of urban residents (65%), but were less acceptable to cat-owners because of perceived risks to their pets; only 24% of cats were fitted with such devices. Overall, cat predation did appear to be of sufficient magnitude to affect some prey populations, although further investigation of some key aspects of cat predation is warranted. Management of the predation behavior of urban cat populations in the UK is likely to be challenging and achieving this would require considerable engagement with cat owners.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:29912
Publisher:Public Library of Science


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