Domestic cats ranging freely in natural areas are a conservation concern due to competition, predation, disease transmission or hybridization with wildcats. In order to improve our ability to design effective control policies, we investigate the factors affecting their numbers and space use in natural areas of continental Europe.
We describe the patterns of cat presence, abundance and space use and analyse the associated environmental and human constraints in a well-preserved Mediterranean natural area with small scattered local farms. We failed in detecting cats in areas away from human settlements (trapping effort above 4000 trap-nights), while we captured 30 individuals near inhabited farms. We identified 130 cats, all of them in farms still in use by people (30% of 128 farms). All cats were free-ranging and very wary of people. The main factor explaining the presence of cats was the presence of people, while the number of cats per farm was mostly affected by the occasional food provisioning with human refuse and the presence of people. The home ranges of eight radio tagged cats were centred at inhabited farms. Males went furthest away from the farms during the mating season (3.8 km on average, maximum 6.3 km), using inhabited farms as stepping-stones in their mating displacements (2.2 km of maximum inter-farm distance moved). In their daily movements, cats notably avoided entering in areas with high fox density.
The presence, abundance and space use of cats were heavily dependent on human settlements. Any strategy aiming at reducing their impact in areas of conservation concern should aim at the presence of settlements and their spatial spread and avoid any access to human refuse. The movements of domestic cats would be limited in areas with large patches of natural vegetation providing good conditions for other carnivore mammals such as red foxes.
|Publication Title||PLoS ONE|
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