Laying low: Rugged lowland rainforest preferred by feral cats in the Australian Wet Tropics

Bruce, Tom, Williams, Stephen E., Amin, Rajan, L'Hotellier, Felicity, and Hirsch, Ben T. (2022) Laying low: Rugged lowland rainforest preferred by feral cats in the Australian Wet Tropics. Ecology and Evolution, 12 (7). e9105.

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Abstract

Invasive mesopredators are responsible for the decline of many species of native mammals worldwide. Feral cats have been causally linked to multiple extinctions of Australian mammals since European colonization. While feral cats are found throughout Australia, most research has been undertaken in arid habitats, thus there is a limited understanding of feral cat distribution, abundance, and ecology in Australian tropical rainforests. We carried out camera-trapping surveys at 108 locations across seven study sites, spanning 200 km in the Australian Wet Tropics. Single-species occupancy analysis was implemented to investigate how environmental factors influence feral cat distribution. Feral cats were detected at a rate of 5.09 photographs/100 days, 11 times higher than previously recorded in the Australian Wet Tropics. The main environmental factors influencing feral cat occupancy were a positive association with terrain ruggedness, a negative association with elevation, and a higher affinity for rainforest than eucalypt forest. These findings were consistent with other studies on feral cat ecology but differed from similar surveys in Australia. Increasingly harsh and consistently wet weather conditions at higher elevations, and improved shelter in topographically complex habitats may drive cat preference for lowland rainforest. Feral cats were positively associated with roads, supporting the theory that roads facilitate access and colonization of feral cats within more remote parts of the rainforest. Higher elevation rainforests with no roads could act as refugia for native prey species within the critical weight range. Regular monitoring of existing roads should be implemented to monitor feral cats, and new linear infrastructure should be limited to prevent encroachment into these areas. This is pertinent as climate change modeling suggests that habitats at higher elevations will become similar to lower elevations, potentially making the environment more suitable for feral cat populations.

Item ID: 75629
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2045-7758
Keywords: camera-trap, elevation, Felis catus, national park, occupancy, topography
Copyright Information: © 2022 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date Deposited: 03 Aug 2022 09:07
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410202 Biosecurity science and invasive species ecology @ 50%
31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310308 Terrestrial ecology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1806 Terrestrial systems and management > 180606 Terrestrial biodiversity @ 100%
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