, Volume 99, Issue 10, pp 801-809

The plant physical features selected by wildcats as signal posts: an economic approach to fecal marking

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Abstract

The chemical signals of solitary and territorial felid species are essential for their intraspecific communication. We studied the selection of plant substrates during the fecal marking behavior of the European wildcat Felis silvestris from September 2008 to June 2009 in a protected area in Northwest Spain. The aim of the study was to examine the selection of plants as signal posts with respect to their physical characteristics. We hypothesized that wildcats deposit their fecal marks on plants with physical characteristics (e.g., size, species, and visual conspicuousness) that enhance the olfactory and visual effectiveness of the signal. Our results indicate that diameter, plant group, visual conspicuousness, and interaction between the diameter and plant group influence the decision of wildcats to deposit their fecal marks on plants. The wildcats chose plants with greater diameters and greater visual conspicuousness as scent-marking posts. Moreover, the wildcats chose woody and herbaceous plants, and certain plant species were marked more frequently than expected at random. Indeed, our results indicate that the fecal marks were not randomly distributed on the plants: the wildcats chose to place their marks on plants with certain physical characteristics that maximized the detectability of the signal by intruders and potential mates, thus facilitating the spatial distribution of the species.

Communicated by: Sven Thatje