Dickman, C.R. & T.M. Newsome. 2014 Individual hunting behaviour and prey specialisation in the house cat Felis catus: Implications for conservation and management. Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Predators are often classed as prey specialists if they eat a narrow range of prey types, or as generalists if they hunt multiple prey types. Yet, individual predators often exhibit sex, size, age or personality-related differences in their diets that may alter the impacts of predation on different prey groups. In this study, we ask whether the house cat Felis catus shows individuality and specialisation in its hunting behaviour and discuss the implications of such specialisation for prey conservation and management. We first examine the prey types killed by cats using information obtained from cat owners, and then present data on cat hunting efficiency on different prey types from direct observations. Finally, we quantify dietary shifts in cats when densities of their preferred prey vary. Our results suggest that cats can exhibit individual, or between-phenotype, variation in hunting behaviour, and continue to hunt specific prey types even when these prey become scarce. From a conservation perspective, these findings have important implications, particularly if cats preferentially select rare or threatened species at times when populations of these species are low. Determining whether prey specialisation exists within a given cat population should therefore be useful for assessing the likely risk of localised prey extinctions. If risks are high, conservation managers may need to use targeted measures to control the impacts of specialist individual cats by using specific baits or lures to attract them. We conclude that individuality in hunting behaviour and prey preference may contribute to the predatory efficiency of the house cat, and suggest that studies of the ontogeny and maintenance of specialist behaviours be priorities for future research.