Understanding determinants of home range behaviour of feral cats as introduced apex predators in insular ecosystems: a spatial approach
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- Recio, M.R. & Seddon, P.J. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2013) 67: 1971. doi:10.1007/s00265-013-1605-7
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The introduced feral cat (Felis catus) is a widespread generalist with flexible social behaviour and an apex predator without major interspecific competitors in insular ecosystems that evolved in the absence of predators. Mechanistic definitions consider an animal’s home range to be the spatial expression of a cognitive map that is kept up-to-date with the status of critical resources that contribute to animal fitness. We assumed there are two major determinants structuring the home range of cats as apex predators in insular ecosystems: the distribution of critical food resources and conspecific distribution. We hypothesized that cats structure their home ranges by optimizing the use of staple critical food resources and that as a consequence of the presence of rich resources cats tend to socialise, aggregate and share space. We carried out spatial analyses using location data for feral cats tracked using lightweight GPS collars in conjunction with the suitability value of rabbit patches and their associated ownership costs for cats within a New Zealand braided-river environment. Cat home ranges and spatial distribution, especially for females, were related to the inclusion of rabbit patches within home ranges with higher mean value than the average of neighbourhood patches in the landscape. Cats showed solitary behaviour but tolerance to conspecific presence by sharing high-use areas and high-value rabbit patches, mostly at different times, resulting in occasional encounters among males and females. Home range size and patterns of spatial overlap were dependant on sex and season. Solitary spacing patterns as consequence of innate preferences together with resource constraints may regulate feral cat population densities.