Koch, K. 2014. Genetic diversity and phylogeography of Australian feral cats. Accepted Dissertation thesis for the partial fulfilment of the requirements for a Doctoral of Natural Sciences. Universität Koblenz-Landau
Biodiversity is not only threatened by habitat loss, climate change and pollution, but also by invasive species. The impact of introduced species is immense and causes substantial ecological and economical costs worldwide. With the start of domestications of the African wildcat (Felis lybica) in the Near East, the transport of house cats (Felis catus) around the world as a commensal and domesticate began. The general aim of my thesis was to investigate the impact of invasive feral cats on native species as well as underlying population genetic structures, diversity and phylogeography. This was studied in the context of the demographic history in Australia and Hawai’i. My studies confirmed that the main introductions of cats to Australia began in the 19th century via ships of European settlers, traders and workers. Similarly, I was able to confirm cat introductions to Hawai’i by European traders and explorers; which has to the present a devastating effect on Hawaiian endemic species. Likewise, cats are widespread across Australia, can be found on most islands and are recognized as one of the major threats to Australian native species. A selective feeding behaviour by invasive predators was found in one of my studies. This study additionally gives an indication for possible population recovery of small Western Australian vertebrate species after predator removal. Advancement and the combination of various management techniques allow, if adequately funded, a more efficient planning and implementation of eradication campaigns. Population genetic approaches are able to give insights into population genetic structure, diversity and kinship, thereby enabling management campaigns to be more cost effective and successful. No pattern of isolation by distance between populations of Hawai’i and Australia indicated that trade routes, such as the ‘Golden Round’ of the maritime fur trade, facilitated a link between far off global cat populations. Multiple introductions to Australia and intermixing with domestic breed cats resulted in feral cat populations which show no signs of reduced genetic variability. My studies also revealed the advantages of bioproxies in combination with phylogeography, which enable the inference and reconstruction of introduction routes, history and origin of invasive species. Genetic signals of historically introduced genotypes are still discernible on islands with low number of introductions over time and thereby low intermixing with domestic fancy breeds. Feral cats’ adaptability as an invader was reconfirmed and possible underlying genetic mechanisms enabling their success as a global invader (‘global supercat’) are discussed. Research into the feralisation process of cats will provide new information regarding the domestication of cats, the genetic basis of feralisation and allow additional insights into cats’ adaptive potential.