Living with the enemy: a threatened prey species coexisting with feral cats on a fox-free island

Authors: Vivianna Miritis, Anthony R Rendall, Tim S Doherty, Amy L Coetsee, and Euan G Ritchie

Published in: Wildlife Research

Abstract

Context

Feral domestic cats (Felis catus) have contributed to substantial loss of Australian wildlife, particularly small- and medium-sized terrestrial mammals. However, mitigating cat impacts remains challenging.

Understanding the factors that facilitate coexistence between native prey and their alien predators could aid better pest management and conservation actions.

Aims

We estimated feral cat density, examined the impact of habitat cover on long-nosed potoroos (Potorous tridactylus tridactylus), and assessed the spatial and temporal interactions between cats and potoroos in the ‘Bluegums’ area of French Island, south-eastern Australia.

Materials and methods

We operated 31 camera stations across Bluegums for 99 consecutive nights in each of winter 2018 and summer 2018/19. We used a spatially explicit capture–recapture model to estimate cat density, and two-species single-season occupancy models to assess spatial co-occurrence of cats and potoroos.

We assessed the influence of vegetation cover and cat activity on potoroo activity by using a dynamic occupancy model. We also used image timestamps to describe and compare the temporal activities of the two species.

Key results

Bluegums had a density of 0.77 cats per km² across both seasons, although this is a conservative estimate because of the presence of unidentified cats.

Cats and long-nosed potoroos were detected at 94% and 77% of camera stations, respectively.

Long-nosed potoroo detectability was higher in denser vegetation and this pattern was stronger at sites with high cat activity.

Cats and potoroos overlapped in their temporal activity, but their peak activity times differed.

Conclusions

Feral cat density at Bluegums, French Island, is higher than has been reported for mainland Australian sites, but generally lower than in other islands.

Long-nosed potoroos were positively associated with cats, potentially indicating cats tracking potoroos as prey or other prey species that co-occur with potoroos.

Temporal activity of each species differed, and potoroos sought more complex habitat, highlighting possible mechanisms potoroos may use to reduce their predation risk when co-occurring with cats.

Implications

Our study highlighted how predator and prey spatial and temporal interactions, and habitat cover and complexity (ecological refuges), may influence the ability for native prey to coexist with invasive predators.

We encourage more consideration and investigation of these factors, with the aim of facilitating more native species to persist with invasive predators or be reintroduced outside of predator-free sanctuaries, exclosures and island safe havens.

Miritis V, Rendall AR, Doherty TS, Coetsee AL, Ritchie EG (2020) Living with the enemy: a threatened prey species coexisting with feral cats on a fox-free island. Wildlife Research PDF DOI