, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 597-602
Date: 19 Nov 2010

Hunters and non-hunters: skewed predation rate by domestic cats in a rural village

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Abstract

Domestic cats Felis catus, as companion animals provided with supplemental food, are not limited by the availability of wild prey and locally occur at extraordinary high densities. There is growing concern about the potential impact of large cat numbers on native prey populations. In the present study, we quantified the minimum number of animals killed in a rural village in Switzerland by asking owners (1) to estimate the predation rate in advance and (2) to record prey animals returned home by their pets. The frequency distribution of the numbers of prey items was markedly skewed: 16% of the cats accounted for 75% of prey, irrespective of sex, age or breed. A large fraction of owners considerably overestimated their cat’s predation, indicating that surveying predation rates by means of a questionnaire alone is not sufficient. The observed average rate of predation within 48 days in spring was 2.29 prey items/cat/month (N = 32 cats); major prey types were rodents (76.1%) and birds (11.1%). The absolute number of prey items taken per area is striking and indicates that cat predation represents an important factor in ecosystems. Its role may be momentous in intensively fragmented urban habitats, where cat densities are especially high. We thus highlight the need to identify the factors determining predation rates of individual cats. Further extended studies, especially in urbanised areas, are needed to quantify the actual impact of cat predation upon the population dynamics of their prey.

Communicated by C. Gortázar