Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité. Mais tu ne dois pas l'oublier, dit le renard. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.
Le Petit Prince, chap. 21

Saturday 15 December 2012

Cat hybridisation in UK

Beaumont, M. E.M. Barratt, D.Gottelli, A.C. Kitchener, M.J. Daniels, J.K. Pritchard & M.W. Bruford. 2001. Genetic diversity and introgression in the Scottish wildcat. Molecular Ecology, 10, 319–336

This paper describes a genetic analysis of wild-living cats in Scotland. Samples from 230 wild-living Scottish cats (including 13 museum skins) and 74 house cats from England and Scotland were surveyed for nine microsatellite loci. Pelage characteristics of the wild-living cats were recorded, and the cats were then grouped into five separate categories depending on the degree to which they conformed to the characteristics attributed to Felis silvestris Schreber, 1775. Allele frequency differences between the morphological groups are greater than those among the three house cat samples. Analysis of genetic distances suggests that more of the differences between individuals can be explained by pelage than geographical proximity, and that pelage and geographical location are not confounded. Ordination of the genetic distances suggests two main groups of wild-living cats, with intermediates, and one group is genetically very similar to the house cats, while the other group contains all cats taxonomically identified as wildcat based on morphology. A genetic mixture analysis gives similar results to the ordination, but also suggests that the genotypes of a substantial number of cats in the wildcat group are drawn from a gene pool with genotypes in approximately equilibrium proportions. We argue that this is evidence that these cats do not have very recent domestic ancestry. However, from the morphological data it is highly likely that this gene pool also contains a contribution from earlier introgression of domestic cat genes.

See more on domestic cat introgression in wildcat

Wolf-dog hybrid in Scandinavia

Vilà, C., C. Walker, A.-K. Sundqvist, Ø Flagstad, Z. Andersone, A. Casulli, I. Kojola, H. Valdmann, J. Halverson & H. Ellegren. 2003. Combined use of maternal, paternal and bi-parental genetic markers for the identification of wolf–dog hybrids. Heredity, 90, 17–24

The identification of hybrids is often a subject of primary concern for the development of conservation and management strategies, but can be difficult when the hybridizing species are closely related and do not possess diagnostic genetic markers. However, the combined use of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), autosomal and Y chromosome genetic markers may allow the identification of hybrids and of the direction of hybridization. We used these three types of markers to genetically characterize one possible wolf–dog hybrid in the endangered Scandinavian wolf population. We first characterized the variability of mtDNA and Y chromosome markers in Scandinavian wolves as well as in neighboring wolf populations and in dogs. While the mtDNA data suggested that the target sample could correspond to a wolf, its Y chromosome type had not been observed before in Scandinavian wolves. We compared the genotype of the target sample at 18 autosomal microsatellite markers with those expected in pure specimens and in hybrids using assignment tests. The combined results led to the conclusion that the animal was a hybrid between a Scandinavian female wolf and a male dog. This finding confirms that inter-specific hybridization between wolves and dogs can occur in natural wolf populations. A possible correlation between hybridization and wolf population density and disturbance deserves further research.

See more about wild canid hybridisation with dogs

Gene introgression between dogs and wolves

Verardi A, Lucchini V & Randi E. 2006. Detecting introgressive hybridization between free-ranging domestic dogs and wild wolves (Canis lupus) by admixture linkage disequilibrium analysis. Molecular Ecology, 15 (10):2845-2855.

Occasional crossbreeding between free-ranging domestic dogs and wild wolves (Canis lupus) has been detected in some European countries by mitochondrial DNA sequencing and genotyping unlinked microsatellite loci. Maternal and unlinked genomic markers, however, might underestimate the extent of introgressive hybridization, and their impacts on the preservation of wild wolf gene pools. In this study, we genotyped 220 presumed Italian wolves, 85 dogs and 7 known hybrids at 16 microsatellites belonging to four different linkage groups (plus four unlinked microsatellites). Population clustering and individual assignments were performed using a Bayesian procedure implemented in structure 2.1, which models the gametic disequilibrium arising between linked loci during admixtures, aiming to trace hybridization events further back in time and infer the population of origin of chromosomal blocks. Results indicate that (i) linkage disequilibrium was higher in wolves than in dogs; (ii) 11 out of 220 wolves (5.0%) were likely admixed, a proportion that is significantly higher than one admixed genotype in 107 wolves found previously in a study using unlinked markers; (iii) posterior maximum-likelihood estimates of the recombination parameter r revealed that introgression in Italian wolves is not recent, but could have continued for the last 70 (+/- 20) generations, corresponding to approximately 140-210 years. Bayesian clustering showed that, despite some admixture, wolf and dog gene pools remain sharply distinct (the average proportions of membership to wolf and dog clusters were Q(w) = 0.95 and Q(d) = 0.98, respectively), suggesting that hybridization was not frequent, and that introgression in nature is counteracted by behavioural or selective constraints.

See more about wild canid hybridisation with dogs

Hybridisation dog/wolf

Randi, E., V. Lucchini, M.F. Christensen, N. Mucci, S.M. Funk, G. Dolf & V. Loeschcke. 2000. Mitochondrial DNA Variability in Italian and East European Wolves: Detecting the consequences of Small Population Size and Hybridization. Conservation Biology, 14 (2): 464-473

The Italian wolf (Canis lupus) population has declined continuously over the last few centuries and become isolated as a result of the extermination of other populations in central Europe and the Alps during the nineteenth century. In the 1970s, approximately 100 wolves survived in 10 isolated areas in the central and southern Italian Apennines. Loss of genetic variability, as suggested by preliminary studies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences, hybridization with feral dogs, and the illegal release of captive, non-native wolves are considered potential threats to the viability of the Italian wolf population. We sequenced 546 base pairs of the mtDNA control region in a comprehensive set of Italian wolves and compared them to those of dogs and other wolf populations from Europe and the Near East. Our data confirm the absence of mtDNA variability in Italian wolves: all 101 individuals sampled across their distribution in Italy had the same, unique haplotype, whereas seven haplotypes were found in only 26 wolves from an outbred population in Bulgaria. Most haplotypes were specific either to wolves or dogs, but some east European wolves shared haplotypes with dogs, indicative of hybridization. In contrast, neither hybridization with dogs nor introgression of non-native wolves was detected in the Italian population. These findings exclude the introgression of dog genes via matings between male wolves and female dogs, the most likely direction of hybridization. The observed mtDNA monomorphism is the possible outcome of random drift in the declining and isolated Italian wolf population, which probably existed at low effective population size during the last 100–150 years. Low effective population size and the continued loss of genetic variability might be a major threat to the long-term viability of Italian wolves. A controlled demographic increase, leading to recolonization of the historical wolf range in Italy, should be enforced.

La población del lobo Italiano (Canis lupus) ha disminuido continuamente a lo largo de los últimos siglos y se ha aislado como resultado de la exterminación de otras poblaciones en Europa central y los Alpes durante el siglo diecinueve. En los años 70, aproximadamente 100 lobos sobrevivieron en 10 áreas aisladas de los Apeninos centrales y del sur. La pérdida de variabilidad genética, como lo han sugerido estudios preliminares de secuencias de ADN mitocondrial (ADNmt), la hibridización con perros silvestres, y la liberación ilegal de lobos cautivos no nativos son consideradas amenazas potenciales para la viabilidad de las poblaciones italianas de lobos. Secuenciamos 546 pares de bases de la región control del ADNmt en un grupo amplio de lobos italianos y los comparamos con perros y otras poblaciones de lobos de Europa y del Cercano Oriente. Nuestros datos confirman la ausencia de variabilidad en el ADNmt en los lobos italianos: Los 101 individuos muestreados a lo largo de su distribución en Italia tuvieron el mismo haplotipo único, mientras que se encontraron siete haplotipos en tan solo 26 lobos de la población de Bulgaria. La mayoría de los haplotipos fueron específicos a los lobos o a los perros, pero algunos lobos del este de Europa compartieron haplotipos con los perros, indicando hibridización. En contraste, ni la hibridización con perros, ni la introgresión de lobos no nativos fue detectada en la población italiana. Estos resultados excluyen la introgresión de genes de perros mediante cruzas entre lobos machos y hembras de perros, la dirección más probable de hibridización. El monomorfismo de ADNmt observado es el posible resultado de la deriva génica en el declive de la población aislada del lobo italiano, la cual probablemente ha existido en un tamaño poblacional efectivo bajo durante por lo menos los últimos 100–150 años. El bajo tamaño poblacional efectivo y la continua pérdida de variabilidad genética podría ser una mayor amenaza para la viabilidad a largo plazo del lobo italiano. Un incremento demográfico controlado, que conduzca hacia la recolonización del rango histórico del lobo en Italia, debería ser puesto en ejecución.

See more about wild canid hybridisation with dogs

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Disturbance from dogs or from people?

Reed, S. & A.D. Merenlender. 2011. Effects of Management of Domestic Dogs and Recreation on Carnivores in Protected Areas in Northern California. Conservation Biology, 25(3):504-513

In developed countries dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) are permitted to accompany human visitors to many protected areas (e.g., >96% of protected lands in California, U.S.A.), and protected-area management often focuses on regulating dogs due to concerns about predation, competition, or transmission of disease and conflicts with human visitors. In 2004 and 2005, we investigated whether carnivore species richness and abundance were associated with management of domestic dogs and recreational visitation in protected areas in northern California. We surveyed for mammalian carnivores and human visitors in 21 recreation areas in which dogs were allowed offleash or onleash or were excluded, and we compared our observations in the recreation areas with observations in seven reference sites that were not open to the public. Carnivore abundance and species richness did not differ among the three types of recreation areas, but native carnivore species richness was 1.7 times greater (p < 0.01) and the relative abundances of native coyotes (Canis latrans) and bobcats ( Lynx rufus) were over four times greater (p < 0.01) in the reference sites. Abundances of bobcats and all carnivores declined as the number of visitors increased. The policy on domestic dogs did not appear to affect species richness and abundance of mammalian carnivores. But the number of dogs we observed was strongly associated with human visitation (R2= 0.54), so the key factors associated with recreational effects on carnivores appear to be the presence and number of human visitors to protected areas.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Dogs displacing birds

Banks, P.B. & J. V Bryant. 2007. Four-legged friend or foe? Dog walking displaces native birds from natural areas. Biology Letters, 3 (6): 611-613

Dog walking is among the world's most popular recreational activities, attracting millions of people to natural areas each year with diverse benefits to human and canine health. But conservation managers often ban dog walking from natural areas fearing that wildlife will see dogs as potential predators and abandon their natural habitats, resulting in outcry at the restricted access to public land. Arguments are passionate on both sides and debate has remained subjective and unresolved because experimental evidence of the ecological impacts of dog walking has been lacking. Here we show that dog walking in woodland leads to a 35% reduction in bird diversity and 41% reduction in abundance, both in areas where dog walking is common and where dogs are prohibited. These results argue against access by dog walkers to sensitive conservation areas.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Dogs affecting distribution of threatened ungulates

Silva-Rodriguez, E.A. & K.E. Sieving. 2012. Domestic dogs shape the landscape-scale distribution of a threatened forest ungulate. Biological Conservation, 150: 103-110

Domestic dogs are the most abundant carnivores worldwide, primarily due to human support. Food and other subsidies to dogs do not necessarily prevent dog predation on wildlife, particularly where dogs are allowed to range freely. Dog impacts on wildlife are suspected to be significant, yet the nature of dog– wildlife interactions is not fully understood. We tested the hypothesis that the distribution of dogs can significantly influence the space use of potential prey, and that both lethal and non-lethal mechanisms may underlie this interaction. If this is true, then we predicted that (1) evidence of predation and harassment by dogs should be evident where prey and dog activities overlap and (2) potential prey should be less frequent in areas where the probability of dog presence is high. To test these predictions we conducted two related studies. (1) We interviewed dog owners to estimate the probability of dog attack on pudu (Pudu puda), a globally vulnerable deer, and the lethality of these attacks. (2) We conducted a camera-trap survey documenting the landscape-scale distribution of pudu and dogs. Interviews showed that both the probability of dog attack on pudu (>85%) and the lethality of such attacks was high (50%). In occupancy models applied to the camera-trap data, the variable that best explained the distribution of pudus was the probability of dog presence. We tested three alternative explanations for the negative association between pudus and dogs that were not supported. Our findings suggest that dogs are efficient at chasing pudu they detect and that both predation and non-lethal (avoidance) consequences of harassment may be shaping the distribution of pudu. This work brings into focus important mechanisms underlying the threats of domestic dogs to endangered prey.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Frigatebird returns to nest on Ascension for first time since Darwin

Endangered species may be saved from extinction after eradication of feral cats that had been eating its chicks
Robin McKie, science editor The Observer Saturday 8th December

One of the world's rarest seabirds has returned to remote Ascension Island in the Atlantic 150 years after its colony was wiped out by feral cats. Last week ornithologists spotted two nests containing eggs being guarded by Ascension frigatebirds, the first of the species to breed there since Charles Darwin visited the island in the early 19th century.

Ascension frigatebirds only survived in a small colony on a nearby rocky outcrop where they were considered to be highly vulnerable to outbreaks of disease and oil spills. But now they have returned to the island after which they are named, raising hopes that the vulnerable bird may be rescued from extinction.
The news marks the success of a project which has cost UK taxpayers more than £500,000 and has involved the eradication of hundreds of feral cats that had been eating frigatebird chicks.

"We are absolutely overwhelmed," said Derren Fox, a conservation officer based on Ascension. "We thought it would take decades for the Ascension frigate to come back and breed after we had got rid of the island's feral cats. But we have already succeeded after only a few years. This suggests we have a real chance of saving the Ascension frigate."
The project's success also raises hopes of saving colonies of other species threatened by feral animals. These include populations of seabirds and amphibians on Montserrat, Gough Island and South Georgia, which are all ravaged by rats, mice and other wild creatures.

In the early 19th century, Ascension Island was home to more than 20 million seabirds, mainly masked boobies, black noddies, brown noddies and Ascension frigatebirds. The frigatebird was considered to be the most important because it was unique to the island. Adults are about 30 inches in length while males have distinctive red sacs on their chests which they inflate during courtship.

Around 1800, rats – accidently introduced by settlers – began to kill off chicks. Cats were imported to kill the rats but instead joined in the killing of frigatebird chicks. "By the time Darwin visited the island in 1836, there were only a few frigatebirds left and the last few were killed off not long after he left," said Clare Stringer of the RSPB, which has played a key role in re-establishing the bird on Ascension. Only a small colony of around 10,000 survived on Boatswain Bird Island, a rocky outcrop off Ascension's east coast which could not be reached by cats.

In 2002, the RSPB – backed with funding from the Foreign Office – launched a programme to eradicate Ascension's feral cats. "It was slightly tricky," said Stringer. "We had to avoid killing islanders' pet cats and kill only feral animals. Owners were told to collar and microchip their pets. Then traps were laid and feral cats caught in these were put down."

In 2006, Ascension was declared to be free of wild cats. "It has taken six years to get frigatebirds to start to recolonise the island since we got rid of the feral cats and frankly it could have taken much longer," said Fox, who – with fellow conservation officer Stedson Stroud – has been monitoring the island for signs of the frigatebird's return. "We now have two nests being tended by parent birds and that should encourage a lot more to settle here in future."


Iberian lynx naïf to domestic carnivores pathogens

Roelke ME, Johnson WE, Millán J, Palomares F, Revilla E, Rodríguez A, Calzada J, Ferreras P, León-Vizcaíno, Delibes M & O’Brien SJ. 2008. Exposure to disease agents in endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). European Journal of Wildlife Research54: 171-178

The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is the most endangered felid species in the world. Lynx populations have decreased dramatically in size and distribution in the last four decades, thus becoming increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic events such as epizooties. From 1989 to 2000, serum samples were obtained from 48 free-ranging lynx captured in the Doñana National Park (DNP, n = 31) and mountains of Sierra Morena (SM, n = 17) in southern Spain. Samples were tested for antibodies against Toxoplasma gondii, feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1), feline calicivirus (FCV), feline/canine parvovirus (FPV/CPV), feline coronavirus, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukaemia virus and canine distemper virus (CDV) and for FeLV p27 antigen, to document baseline exposure levels. Antibodies against T. gondii were detected in 44% of lynx, with a significantly greater prevalence in DNP (61%) than in SM (12%). In DNP, prevalence was significantly higher in adult (81%) than in juvenile and sub-adult (41%) lynx, but no such difference was observed in SM. Low prevalences (≤11%) of minimally positive titres were found for FHV-1, FCV and FPV/CPV. This, combined with the lack of evidence for exposure to CDV, FIV and FeLV, suggests that these lynx populations are naïve and might be vulnerable to a disease outbreak in the future. Because of the reduced size of lynx populations, the documented low level of genetic variation (particularly in the DNP population) coupled with the recently documented state of immune depletion in a majority of necropsied lynx, it is important to better understand the threat and potential impact that disease agents might pose for the conservation of this endangered species. Future surveillance programs must include possible disease reservoir hosts such as domestic cats and dogs and other wild carnivores.

Pathogens on Iberian lynx

Millán J, Candela MG, Palomares F, Cubero MJ, Rodríguez A, Barral M, de la Fuente J, Almería S & Vizcaíno LL. 2009. Disease threats to the endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). The Veterinary Journal182: 114-124

The Iberian lynx, (Lynx pardinus), is the most endangered felid in the world. To determine whether sympatric carnivores are reservoirs of pathogens posing a disease risk for the lynx, evidence of exposure to 17 viral, bacterial and protozoan agents was investigated in 176 carnivores comprising 26 free-living lynx, 53 domestic cats, 28 dogs, 33 red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), 24 Egyptian mongooses (Herpestes ichneumon), 10 common genets (Genetta genetta) and 2 Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) in the areas inhabited by the last two populations of Iberian lynx, both in Andalusia (South-Western Spain).

The results indicated that the lynx had low rates of contact with viral pathogens, with one seropositive finding each for feline leukemia virus, parvovirus and canine adenovirus-1, whereas contact with bacteria and protozoa appeared more frequent. Active infections with parvovirus, Ehrlichia spp., Mycobacterium bovis,Leptospira interrogans and Cytauxzoon spp. were confirmed. In contrast, 53% of the domestic cats were exposed to some infectious agent (prevalence range 4.5–11.4%). Antibodies to canine distemper virus and parvovirus were frequently found in dogs (32% and 42%, respectively) and foxes (30% and 12%). Past or present infections with parvovirus, Ehrlichia spp., Chlamydophila spp., M. bovis, Salmonella enterica, L. interrogans, Toxoplasma gondii, and Neospora caninum were also detected in these and other species surveyed.

Questionnaires to owners revealed that 14% of the dogs but none of the cats had been vaccinated, and no cat had been neutered. Based on the apparent absence of acquired immunity of the lynx against infectious agents, the frequent detection of agents among sympatric carnivores, and the reported lack of immunocompetence of the Iberian lynx, a disease outbreak among the local abundant carnivores may pose a serious disease risk for lynx conservation.

FeLV on Iberian lynx

Meli M.L., Cattori V., Martínez F., López G., Vargas A., Palomares F., López-Bao J.V., Hofmann-Lehmann R. & Lutz H. 2010. Feline Leukemia virus infection: A threat for the survival of the critically endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus): Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology134: 61-67

The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is considered the most endangered felid species in the world. To date, less than 200 animals remain in the wild. Low numbers and genetic uniformity may contribute to render this species particularly susceptible to infectious diseases. Different pathogens have been identified in Iberian lynxes; including several feline bacterial and viral agents. Within a 6-month period starting in December 2006, 12 lynxes living in the northern part of the Doñana area were found to be infected with feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Eleven of these animals were antigenemic, and four of them died in the wild in less than 6 months since the first infected animal had been discovered. The remaining viremic lynxes were captured and allocated to a quarantine center to stop the spread of the infection. An additional three animals died shortly in the quarantine center due to acute anemic disease. Sequencing of the envelope surface unit gene revealed a common origin for the FeLV found in all lynxes. The sequences were closely related to FeLV-A/61E, originally isolated from cats in the USA. Our data demonstrate that, similarly to FeLV, the introduction of a new or particularly pathogenic infection brought into the small population of Iberian lynxes by other wild carnivores or feral cats and dogs roaming in the same habitats have severe consequences. It could result in epidemics that have the potential to eradicate the entire lynx population

Pathogens from domestic cat on Iberian lynx

Meli M., Cattori V., Martínez F., López G., Vargas A., Simón M.A., Zorrilla I., Muñoz A., Palomares F., López-Bao J.V., Pastor J., Tandon R., Willi B., Hofmann-Lehmann R. & Lutz H. 2009. Feline Leukemia Virus and Other Pathogens as Important Threats to the Survival of the Critically Endangered Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus). PLoS ONE4(3): e4744


The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is considered the most endangered felid species in the world. In order to save this species, the Spanish authorities implemented a captive breeding program recruiting lynxes from the wild. In this context, a retrospective survey on prevalence of selected feline pathogens in free-ranging lynxes was initiated.

Methodology/ Principal Findings

We systematically analyzed the prevalence and importance of seven viral, one protozoan (Cytauxzoon felis), and several bacterial (e.g., hemotropic mycoplasma) infections in 77 of approximately 200 remaining free-ranging Iberian lynxes of the Doñana and Sierra Morena areas, in Southern Spain, between 2003 and 2007. With the exception of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), evidence of infection by all tested feline pathogens was found in Iberian lynxes. Fourteen lynxes were feline leukemia virus (FeLV) provirus-positive; eleven of these were antigenemic (FeLV p27 positive). All 14 animals tested negative for other viral infections. During a six-month period in 2007, six of the provirus-positive antigenemic lynxes died. Infection with FeLV but not with other infectious agents was associated with mortality (p<0.001). Sequencing of the FeLV surface glycoprotein gene revealed a common origin for ten of the eleven samples. The ten sequences were closely related to FeLV-A/61E, originally isolated from cats in the USA. Endogenous FeLV sequences were not detected.


It was concluded that the FeLV infection most likely originated from domestic cats invading the lynx's habitats. Data available regarding the time frame, co-infections, and outcome of FeLV-infections suggest that, in contrast to the domestic cat, the FeLV strain affecting the lynxes in 2007 is highly virulent to this species. Our data argue strongly for vaccination of lynxes and domestic cats in and around lynx's habitats in order to prevent further spread of the virus as well as reduction the domestic cat population if the lynx population is to be maintained.

First detection of FeLV on Iberian lynx

Luaces I, Doménech A, García-Montijano M, Collado VM, Sánchez C, Tejerizo JG, Glaka M, Fernández P & Gómez-Lucía E. 2008. Detection of Feline Leukemia virus in the endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation20: 381-385

Feline retroviruses are rarely reported in lynx species. Twenty-one Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) blood and tissue samples collected from Doñana National Park and Los Villares (Sierra Morena) in southern Spain during 1993–2003 were analyzed by polymerase chain reaction to amplify nucleic acids from feline retroviruses. Six samples were positive for Feline leukemia virus (FeLV), but no samples tested positive for Feline immunodeficiency virus. The BLAST analysis indicated that 5 of the 6 sequences were closely related to FeLV strain Rickard subgroup A, whereas 1 sequence was identical to FeLV. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first report of FeLV in the endangered Iberian lynx.

Friday 7 December 2012

FeLV and Iberian lynx

López G, López-Parra M, Fernández L, Martínez-Granados C, Martínez F, Meli ML, Gil-Sánchez JM, Viqueira N, Díaz-Portero MA, Cadenas R, Lutz H, Vargas A & Simón MA. 2009. Management measure to control a feline leukemia virus outbreak in the endangered Iberian lynx. Animal Conservation, 12: 173-182

The feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a retrovirus that affects domestic cats all over the world. Its pathogenic effects generally include anemia, immunosuppression or tumors. Dissemination over populations is linked to cat sociality, because the virus is transmitted by direct contact. Although the domestic cat is its common host, FeLV infection has also been described in some wild felids. In the Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus, some sporadic FeLV infection cases have been reported since 1994, but an outbreak with the involvement of several animals has never been described until now. During spring 2007, an FeLV outbreak hit the Doñana (SW Spain) population. The infection rapidly spread throughout the densest subpopulation throughout Doñana. Infected animals showed very acute anemic disease, most of them dying in o6 months. To avoid FeLV dissemination, a control program was carried out that included removal of viremic lynxes, vaccination of negative individuals and reduction of the feral cat population. The program was implemented both in Donana and in Sierra Morena populations. In Doñana, around 80% of the total lynx population and 90% of the outbreak focus subpopulation were evaluated. Seven out of the 12 infected individuals found died and two reverted to latency; the remaining viremic animals have been kept in captivity. The outbreak appears to have been successfully confined to the subpopulation where the virus appeared and no more cases have been found since August 2007. In the larger Sierra Morena population, 8% of the lynx population was surveyed. Thirtyfour uninfected Iberian lynxes were vaccinated at least once. The FeLV prevalence was found to be 27% in the Doñana population and 0% in the Sierra Morena population.

Thursday 6 December 2012

100 millions prey in five months in UK!!

Woods, M., R.A. McDonald & S. Harris. 2003. Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus in Great Britain. Mammal Review 33 (2), 174-188.
1. A questionnaire survey of the numbers of animals brought home by domestic cats Felis catus was conducted between 1 April and 31 August 1997. A total of 14 370 prey items were brought home by 986 cats living in 618 households. Mammals made up 69% of the items, birds 24%, amphibians 4%, reptiles 1%, fish <1%, invertebrates 1% and unidentified items 1%. A minimum of 44 species of wild bird, 20 species of wild mammal, four species of reptile and three species of amphibian were recorded.
2. Of a sample of 696 individual cats, 634 (91%) brought home at least one item and the back-transformed mean number of items brought home was 11.3 (95% CI 10.4–12.2). The back-transformed means and number of cats retrieving at least one item from each prey group were: 8.1 (7.4–8.9) mammals for 547 (79%) cats, 4.1 (3.8–4.5) birds for 506 (73%) cats, 2.6 (2.2–3.0) herpetofauna for 145 (21%) cats and 2.2 (1.8–2.7) other items for 98 (14%) cats. 
3. The number of birds and herpetofauna brought home per cat was significantly lower in households that provided food for birds. The number of bird species brought home was greater in households providing bird food. The number of birds and herpetofauna brought home per cat was negatively related to the age and condition of the cat. The number of mammals brought home per cat was significantly lower when cats were equipped with bells and when they were kept indoors at night. The number of herpetofauna brought home was significantly greater when cats were kept in at night.
4. Based on the proportion of cats bringing home at least one prey item and the backtransformed means, a British population of approximately 9 million cats was estimated to have brought home in the order of 92 (85–100) million prey items in the period of this survey, including 57 (52–63) million mammals, 27 (25–29) million birds and 5 (4–6) million reptiles and amphibians.
5. An experimental approach should be taken to investigate the factors found by this descriptive survey to influence the numbers of prey brought home by cats. In particular, investigation of potential management practices that could reduce the numbers of wild animals killed and brought home by cats will be useful for wildlife conservation, particularly in suburban areas.

Read more national surveys results on cat predation

Read a short review about belling effectiveness

Cats predation and winter shortages for raptor prey

George, W.G.. 1974. Domestic cats as predators and factors in winter shortages of raptor prey. The Wilson Bulletin 86(4):384-396.

The  reader  who  has  digested  my  findings  can  imagine  that  a hawk  visiting my  study  site  in  the  winters  of  1968-1971  was  more  apt  to  see a  cat  than  a rodent

A  continuous  study  of  predation  by  three  rural  cats  was  conducted  in  Union  County, southern  Illinois,  from  1  January  1968  through  31  December  1971.  The  results  established  a  basis  for  examining  the  possibility  that  cat  predation  may  result  in  depleted winter  populations  of  microtine  rodents  and  other  prey  of  Red-tailed  Hawks,  Marsh Hawks,  and  American  Kestrels. 
Although  one of  the  three  cats never  ate  prey  and  each cat  was  assured  an  ample  supply  of  daily  food  at  home,  all  captured  prey.  Their  combined  predation  removed  an annual  average  of  483.5  vertebrates  and  286.4  mammalian  fetuses  from  a  combined  home range  of  22  acres  of  field  habitat  and  three  acres  of  woods.  By  volume,  the  principal prey  were  non-adult  cottontails,  by  frequency  of  captures,  prairie  voles.  Rodents  of seven  species  constituted  81.9  percent  of  the  total  combined  diurnal-crepuscular- nocturnal  catch,  and  over  95  percent  of  the  crepuscular-nocturnal  catch. 
The  cats  obtained  92.6  percent  of  their  average  annual  diurnal  captures  between  1 March  and  30  November.  Their  hunting  sucess in  winter  was  very  poor,  probably  as a  result  of  prey  shortages that  their  own  prior  predation  may  have  helped  create.  It  is suggested  that  when  captures  of  preferred  prey  by  skillful,  experienced  cats  on  their natal  hunting  grounds  sharply  decline,  the  home  range  of  the  cats  contains  few  such prey  for rodent-seeking  hawks. 

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Migración e islas / Migration and islands

Islands are important stopovers for many migrant passerines. Birds arrive exahusted and with few chances to avoid predators. When these are abundant, for instance because of being well fed by domestic waste, islands become traps for birds.
Many stray cats can also kill without a need and neglect their preys. 

(foto, Gonzalo Martínez Salcedo)
Las islas son escalas fundamentales en la migración de muchas especies de paseriformes. Las aves llegan agotadas y con pocas posibilidades de reaccionar ante los depredadores. Cuando estos alcanzan densidades importantes, por tratarse de poblaciones bien alimentadas por los restos domésticos, las islas se convierten en una trampa.
Los gatos errantes también matan sin necesidad inmediata de alimentarse y abandonan sus presas.

Effect on dogs on nightjars

Langston, R.H.W., Liley, D., Murison, G., Woodfield, E. & Clarke, R.T. (2007). What effects do walkers and dogs have on the distribution and productivity of breeding European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus? Ibis, 149(Suppl. 1): 10.

Several successive studies of European Nightjars Caprimulgus europaeus (hereafter, Nightjar) on the Dorset heaths demonstrated negative effects of the proximity of urban development and associated disturbance from access on foot by people and dogs. Surrogate measures of human density and settlement, including the amount of developed land around each heathland patch and the number of houses, were significantly and negatively related to the density of Nightjars (using data from the 1992 national survey) on heathland patches, regardless of patch size. These findings prompted targeted field studies, the subject of this paper, which investigated the mechanisms and effects of recreational disturbance on breeding Nightjars. Fieldwork in 2002 focused on a suite of heathland sites representing a range of access from sites closed to the public to heaths heavily used for recreation, notably by dog walkers. Studies in 2003 concentrated on the heavily used heaths. Nests which failed were significantly closer to paths, tended to be closer to the main points of access to heaths, in areas with higher footpath density, notably of high levels of use, and in more sparsely vegetated locations. The proximate cause of nest failure was most frequently egg predation. Nest cameras, deployed in 2003 in an attempt to identify the predators of eggs or chicks, recorded just one instance of predation, that of an egg by a Carrion Crow Corvus corone, and two instances of the incubating bird being flushed by a dog, once from an egg and once from a chick, neither event preventing fledging. Flushing rate of Nightjars from the nest was associated with the height of vegetation around the nest and the extent of nest cover. The studies indicate that access disturbance interacts with environmental conditions for breeding birds. Birds flush more readily from eggs, which are highly visible when exposed, especially in areas with sparse nest cover, leaving them vulnerable to predation. Although Nightjar flushing rates were observed to be low in 2003, just one event leading to predation is enough to end that nesting attempt. Management measures are recommended to minimize the effects of walkers and their dogs on Nightjars.

Canine distemper impact on African wild dogs

Alexander, K.A. & M.J. Appel. 1994. African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) endangered by a canine distemper epizootic among domestic dogs near the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 30 (4): 481-485

A longitudinal study of canine distemper (CD) among domestic dogs on Malsai communal land to the north of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya was conducted from 1989 to 1991. Prevalence of antibodies to CD was very low among domestic dogs in 1989 and 1990 (4%, n = 49; and 1%, n = 119, respectively) and no African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus; n = 16) collected simultaneously from the same area had detectable antibodies. Among 51 domestic dogs sampled in 1991, however, prevalence of CD antibodies rose significantly (P < 0.01) to 76%. Disease-related mortality rates among domestic dogs were estimated from 1990 to 1992; they rose significantly (P < 0.01) from 21% in 1990 to 50% in 1991 and then decreased significantly (P < 0.01) to 38% in 1992. The 1992 mortality rate remained significantly (P < 0.01) higher than that of 1990. Signs observed in clinically ill domestic dogs were consistent with CD and included listlessness, decreased appetite, bilateral serous to mucopurulent oculonasal discharge, and diarrhea. No carcasses could be retrieved for virus isolation and postmortem examination. Concurrent with this CD epizootic in domestic dogs, the known African wild dog packs in this region disappeared.

Monday 3 December 2012

CDV impact on island foxes

Timm, S. F., L. Munson, B.A. Summers, K.A. Terio, E.J. Dubovi, C.E. Rupprecht, S. Kapil & D.K. Garcelon.  2009. A suspected canine distemper epidemic as the cause of a catastrophic decline in Santa Catalina Island foxes (Urocyon littoralis catalinae). Journal of Wildlife Diseases 45(2): 333-343.

The island fox (Urocyon littoralis catalinae) population on Santa Catalina Island, California, USA declined precipitously in 1999 with an approximate 95% reduction on their eastern range, an area representing 87% of the island. During this investigation, between October 1999 and April 2000, evidence of live foxes dramatically decreased. The only carcass recovered during the decline succumbed to a co-infection of canine distemper virus (CDV) and toxoplasmosis. Sequence analysis of the viral P gene, derived by polymerase chain reaction, indicated that the virus was closely related to CDV from a mainland USA raccoon (Procyon lotor). Nine of 10 foxes trapped in 1999–2000, on the eastern portion of the island after the decline, had serologic evidence of exposure to CDV, whereas only four of 19 foxes trapped in this region in 1998 had antibodies reactive against CDV. The confirmation of CDV in one deceased fox, evidence of exposure to CDV in east-end foxes in 1999–2000 compared to 1998, and documentation of raccoon introductions to the island, implicates canine distemper as the cause of the population decline.

Two reviews on feral cat eradications on islands

Nogales M., Martin A., Tershy B.R., Donlan C.J., Witch D., Puerta N., Wood B. & Alonso J. (2004) A review of feral cat eradication on islands. Conservation Biology, 18, 310-319.

Feral cats are directly responsible for a large percentage of global extinctions, particularly on islands. We reviewed feral cat eradication programs with the intent of providing information for future island conservation actions. Most insular cat introductions date from the nineteentb and twentieh centuries, whereas successful eradication programs bave been carried out in the last 30 years, most in the last decade. Globally, feral cats bave been removed from at least 48 islands: 16 in Baja California (Mexico), 10 in New Zealand, 5 in Australia, 4 in the Pacific Ocean, 4 in Seychelles, 3 in the sub-Antarctic, 3 in Macaronesia (Atlantic Ocean), 2 in Mauritius, and 1 in the Caribbean. The majority of these islands (75%; n = 36) are small (<5 km2).
The largest successful eradication campaign took place on Marion Island (290 km2) cat density been successfully removed from only 10 islands (21%) of >10 km2  On Cousine Island (Seychelles) cat density reached 243 cats/km2, but on most islands densities did not exceed 79.2 cats/km2(n = 22; 81%). The most common methods in successful eradication programs were trapping and bunting (often with dogs; 91% from a total of 43 islands). Frequently, these methods were used togetber. Other methods included poisoning (1080; monofluoracetate in fish baits; n = 13; 31%), secondary poisoning from poisoned rats (n = 4; 10%), and introduction of viral disease (feline panleucopaenia; n = 2; 5%). Impacts from cat predastion and, more recently, the benefits of cat eradications bave been increasingly documented. These impacts and benefits, combined with the continued success of eradication campigns on larger islands, show the value and role of feral cat eradications in biodiversity conservation. However, new and more efficient techniques used in combination with current techniques will likely be needed for success on larger islands.

K. J. Campbell, G. Harper, D. Algar, C. C. Hanson, B. S. Keitt & S. Robinson. 2011. Review of feral cat eradications on islands. Pages 37-46 In: Veitch, C. R.; Clout, M. N. and Towns, D. R. (eds.).  Island invasives: eradication and management. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland

Feral cats are a substantial threat to native and endemic fauna on islands and are being eradicated with increasing frequency.  Worldwide, 87 campaigns have been completed on 83 islands, for a total area of 114,173 ha. Nineteen unsuccessful eradication attempts are known on 15 islands and lessons learnt from those failures are provided. At least five campaigns are currently underway. We review past cat eradication campaigns, and the methods used to eradicate and detect cats in those campaigns.  We also review recent advances in eradication and detection methods.  We outline proposed eradications and document a trend for increasingly larger islands being considered, but note that although post-eradication conservation impacts are generally positive, there have been some negative ecosystem impacts.

Cat eradication on Marion island

Bester, M.N., Bloomer, J.P., van Aarde, R.J., Erasmus B.H., van Rensberg P.J.J., Skinner J.D., Howell P.G. & Naude T.W. 2002. A review of the successful eradication of feral cats from sub-Antarctic Marion Island, Southern Indian Ocean. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 32, 65-73.

This paper reviews the history of the feral cat eradication programme on sub-Antarctic Marion Island based on unpublished minutes of meetings, reports, letters, theses and published scientific papers; and reflects on the outcome of the eradication campaign. The 19-year programme comprised seven phases, commencing with a description of the effect of the cats on the Marion Island ecosystem, the characteristics of the cat population and the formulation of a management policy (phase 1: 1974–1976). Methods for control were selected and preparations were made for the implementation of the primary control measure, biological control with the feline panleucopaenia virus (phase 2: 1976/77). The virus was released in 1977 (phase 3: 1977), followed by the determination of its effects (phase 4: 1977–1980). Monitoring of the effects of the virus continued, and the secondary control measure of hunting at night was tested (phase 5: 1981–1983). Full-scale implementation of hunting and continued monitoring of the effects of both the disease and hunting followed (phase 6: 1986–1989). The inclusion of intensive trapping and poisoning as tertiary control measures culminated in the final eradication of cats from Marion Island in 1991 (phase 7: 1989–1993).

Control with padded leg-hold traps

Jolley W.J., K. J. Campbell, N.D. Holmes, D.K. Garcelon, C.C. Hanson, D. Will, B.S. Keitt1, G. Smith, A.E. Little. 2012. Reducing the impacts of leg hold trapping on critically endangered foxes by modified traps and conditioned trap aversion on San Nicolas Island, California, USA. Conservation Evidence, 9, 43-49.

Padded leg-hold live traps were used as the primary removal technique in the successful eradication of feral cats Felis silvestris catus from San Nicolas Island, California, USA. Risk of injury to endemic San Nicolas Island foxes Urocyon littoralis dickeyi, a similarly sized and more abundant non-target species, was mitigated by using a smaller trap size, modifying the trap and trap set to reduce injuries, and utilising a trap monitoring system to reduce time animals spent in traps. Impacts to foxes during the eradication campaign were further reduced by having a mobile veterinary hospital on island to treat injured foxes. Compared to other reported fox trapping efforts, serious injuries were reduced 2-7 times. Trapping efforts exceeded animal welfare standards, with 95% of fox captures resulting in minor or no injuries. Older foxes were more likely to receive serious injury. Fox captures were also reduced through aversive conditioning, with initial capture events providing a negative stimulus to prevent recaptures. Fox capture rates decreased up to six times during seven months of trapping, increasing trap availability for cats, and improving the efficacy of the cat eradication program. No aspect of the first capture event was significantly linked to the chance of recapture.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Predator preferences impact on native prey

Gaucel, S. & D. Pontier . 2005. How predator food preference can change the destiny of native prey in predator–prey systems. Biological Invasions, 7: 795–806.

The aim of this work is to develop and analyse a mathematical model for a predator-2 preys system arising in insular environments. We are interested in the evolution of a native prey population without behavioural traits to cope with predation or competition, after the introduction of alien species. Here, we consider a long living bird population with low fertility rate. We point out the effects of the preference of the predator for either juvenile or adult stages. In addition, we study the impact of alien prey introduction in such a model. We use a reaction-diffusion system with a singular logistic right hand side. The aim of this work is to bring interesting dynamics to the fore. As a first example, oscillatory behaviour takes place in the model without alien preys and when predators have an average preference coefficient. Introduction of alien preys can lead to species extinction.

Feral cat control benefits seabirds

Bonnaud, E., K. Bourgeois, D. Zarzoso-Lacoste & E. VidalCat impact and management on two Mediterranean sister islands: “The French conservation touch”.Pages 395-401 In: Veitch, C. R.; Clout, M. N. and Towns, D. R. (eds.). 2011.  Island invasives: eradication and management. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Feral cats (Felis catus) are one of the most damaging introduced species for island species worldwide. While cat control or eradication is handled with increasing efficiency on uninhabited islands, the strong bond with humans, regardless of ownership, makes cat management difficult on inhabited islands. We conducted a cat-removal programme on Port-Cros Island where both the presence of humans and their cats threaten   Puffinus yelkouan, an endangered Mediterranean endemic species of burrowing petrel. The two largest French-breeding colonies of this procellariid are on the two studied islands: Port-Cros and Le Levant. The cat-removal programme was implemented on Port-Cros, with Le Levant used for comparison. Cat diet studied through scat analysis showed cats to be responsible for killing 162 ± 46 and 21 ± 4 shearwaters per cat and per year on Le Levant and Port-Cros respectively. Bird breeding parameters were monitored during seven years on Port-Cros (before and after cat removal) and three years on Le Levant. By constructing a shearwater population viability model, we calculated that the cat impact on the yelkouan shearwaters threatens the entire population in the long term and justified cat removal. We designed a conservation management plan for Port-Cros where, taking into account human presence, feral cats were live-trapped and domestic cats were sterilised. Following this two year campaign, cat predation of shearwaters ceased, followed by an increase in the shearwater breeding population. Thus, protecting seabirds from cat predation is possible, even on islands where inhabitants are notoriously reticent to any sort of cat removal programme.

Predation of cats on Mediterranean shearwater

BONNAUD, E., G. BERGER, K. BOURGEOIS, J. LEGRAND & E. VIDAL. 2012. Predation by cats could lead to the extinction of the Mediterranean endemic Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan at a major breeding site. Ibis, 154, 566–577

Feral cats are considered to be one of the main harmful invasive species for island species. Adult shearwaters are highly vulnerable to predation by cats. The population of the Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan, a species endemic to the Mediterranean, is predicted to decline, leaving only a few large breeding colonies, due to the invasion of cats. The impact of cats on the Shearwater population of Le Levant Island, one of the major breeding sites for this species, was evaluated by studying cat diet over a 2-year period. The predation rate obtained was then included in a Shearwater demographic model. Cats preyed upon rabbits, rats and Shearwaters, with a peak of predation on Shearwaters immediately upon their arrival at the colony. Cat predation was heavy and responsible for the yearly death of about 810–3241 birds. This could lead to the extinction of the Le Levant colony within the next four decades and perhaps within just a few years. Cat predation on prospecting individuals, a parameter essential to assess the real impact of predation, may not have an immediate effect on the Shearwater breeding population but can accelerate population extinction. Cat predation must be reduced or removed to prevent the extinction of one of the most important breeding sites for this species.

Cats "protecting" birds

Courchamp F, Langlais M, Sugihara G. 1999. Cats protecting birds: Modelling the mesopredator release effect. Journal of Animal Ecology68: 282–292

1- Introduced predators account for a large part of the extinction of endemic insular species, which constitutes a major component of the loss of biodiversity among vertebrates. Eradication of alien predators from these ecosystems is often considered the best solution.
2- In some ecosystems, however, it can generate a greater threat for endemic prey, through what is called the "mesopredator release". This process predicts that, once superpredators are suppressed, a burst of mesopredators may follow that leads their shared prey to extinction.
3- This process is studied through a mathematical model describing a three species system (prey-mesopredator-superpredator). Analysis of the model, with and without control of meso- and superpredators, shows that this process does indeed exist and can drive shared prey to rapid extinction.
4- This work emphasises that, although counter-intuitive, eradication of introduced superpredators, such as feral domestic cats, is not always the best solution to protect endemic prey when introduced mesopredators, such as rats, are also present.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Cats, toxoplasmosis and human culture

Lafferty, K.D.2006. Can the common brain parasite,Toxoplasma gondii, influence human culture? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 273: 2749-2755

The latent prevalence of a long-lived and common brain parasite,Toxoplasma gondii, explains a statistically significant portion of the variance in aggregate neuroticism among populations, as well as in the ‘neurotic’ cultural dimensions of sex roles and uncertainty avoidance. Spurious or non-causal correlations between aggregate personality and aspects of climate and culture that influence T. gondii transmission could also drive these patterns. A link between culture and T. gondii hypothetically results from a behavioural manipulation that the parasite uses to increase its transmission to the next host in the life cycle: a cat. While latent toxoplasmosis is usually benign, the parasite's subtle effect on individual personality appears to alter the aggregate personality at the population level. Drivers of the geographical variation in the prevalence of this parasite include the effects of climate on the persistence of infectious stages in soil, the cultural practices of food preparation and cats as pets. Some variation in culture, therefore, may ultimately be related to how climate affects the distribution of T. gondii, though the results only explain a fraction of the variation in two of the four cultural dimensions, suggesting that if T. gondii does influence human culture, it is only one among many factors.

Cats, rats and seabirds

Le Corre, M. 2008. Cats, rats and seabirds. Nature, 451: 134-135.
Cats kill birds, and therefore eradicating cats from an island would seem to be a good strategy for protecting the native population of seabirds. But that thinking does not take account of ecological complications.
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