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

Monday 27 January 2014

Early introgression of dog genes during re-expansion of wolf in Italy

Randi, E., Hulva, P., Fabbri, E., Galaverni, M., Galov, A., Kusak, J., Bigi, D., Černá Bolfíková, B., Smetanová, M. & Caniglia, R. (2014). Multilocus Detection of Wolf x Dog Hybridization in Italy, and Guidelines for Marker Selection. PLOS ONE, 9(1), e86409.

Hybridization and introgression can impact the evolution of natural populations. Several wild canid species hybridize in nature, sometimes originating new taxa. However, hybridization with free-ranging dogs is threatening the genetic integrity of grey wolf populations (Canis lupus), or even the survival of endangered species (e.g., the Ethiopian wolf C. simensis). Efficient molecular tools to assess hybridization rates are essential in wolf conservation strategies. We evaluated the power of biparental and uniparental markers (39 autosomal and 4 Y-linked microsatellites, a melanistic deletion at the β-defensin CBD103 gene, the hypervariable domain of the mtDNA control-region) to identify the multilocus admixture patterns in wolf x dog hybrids. We used empirical data from 2 hybrid groups with different histories: 30 presumptive natural hybrids from Italy and 73 Czechoslovakian wolfdogs of known hybrid origin, as well as simulated data. We assessed the efficiency of various marker combinations and reference samples in admixture analyses using 69 dogs of different breeds and 99 wolves from Italy, Balkans and Carpathian Mountains. Results confirmed the occurrence of hybrids in Italy, some of them showing anomalous phenotypic traits and exogenous mtDNA or Y-chromosome introgression. Hybridization was mostly attributable to village dogs and not strictly patrilineal. The melanistic β-defensin deletion was found only in Italian dogs and in putative hybrids. The 24 most divergent microsatellites (largest wolf-dog FST values) were equally or more informative than the entire panel of 39 loci. A smaller panel of 12 microsatellites increased risks to identify false admixed individuals. The frequency of F1 and F2 was lower than backcrosses or introgressed individuals, suggesting hybridization already occurred some generations in the past, during early phases of wolf expansion from their historical core areas. Empirical and simulated data indicated the identification of the past generation backcrosses is always uncertain, and a larger number of ancestry-informative markers is needed.

Read more about canine hybidisation and gene introgression

Saturday 25 January 2014

Dog distemper affecting wolfs

Di Sabatino D, Lorusso A, Di Francesco CE, Gentile L, Di Pirro V,  Bellacicco, A.L., Giovannini, A., Di Francesco, G., Marruchella, G., Marsilio, F. & Savini, G. (2014) Arctic Lineage-Canine Distemper Virus as a Cause of Death in Apennine Wolves (Canis lupus) in Italy. PLoS ONE 9(1): e82356. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082356

Canine distemper virus (CDV) infection is a primary threat affecting a wide number of carnivore species, including wild animals. In January 2013, two carcasses of Apennine wolves (Canis lupus) were collected in Ortona dei Marsi (L'Aquila province, Italy) by the local Veterinary Services. CDV was immediately identified either by RT-PCR or immunohistochemistry in lung and central nervous tissue samples. At the same time, severe clinical signs consistent with CDV infection were identified and taped (Videos S1S3) from three wolves rescued in the areas surrounding the National Parks of the Abruzzi region by the Veterinary Services. The samples collected from these symptomatic animals also turned out CDV positive by RT-PCR. So far, 30 carcasses of wolves were screened and CDV was detected in 20 of them. The sequencing of the haemagglutinin gene and subsequent phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that the identified virus belonged to the CDV Arctic lineage. Strains belonging to this lineage are known to circulate in Italy and in Eastern Europe amongst domestic dogs. To the best of our knowledge this is the first report of CDV Arctic lineage epidemics in the wild population in Europe.

Farm dogs aroung protected areas: problem or solution?

Sepúlveda, M. A., Singer, R. S., Silva-Rodríguez, E., Stowhas, P., & Pelican, K. (2014). Domestic Dogs in Rural Communities around Protected Areas: Conservation Problem or Conflict Solution?. PLOS ONE, 9(1), e86152.

Although domestic dogs play many important roles in rural households, they can also be an important threat to the conservation of wild vertebrates due to predation, competition and transmission of infectious diseases. An increasing number of studies have addressed the impact of dogs on wildlife but have tended to ignore the motivations and attitudes of the humans who keep these dogs and how the function of dogs might influence dog-wildlife interactions. To determine whether the function of domestic dogs in rural communities influences their interactions with wildlife, we conducted surveys in rural areas surrounding protected lands in the Valdivian Temperate Forests of Chile. Sixty percent of farm animal owners reported the use of dogs as one of the primary means of protecting livestock from predators. The probability of dog–wild carnivore interactions was significantly associated with the raising of poultry. In contrast, dog–wild prey interactions were not associated with livestock presence but had a significant association with poor quality diet as observed in previous studies. Dog owners reported that they actively encouraged the dogs to chase off predators, accounting for 25–75% of the dog–wild carnivore interactions observed, depending on the predator species. Humans controlled the dog population by killing pups and unwanted individuals resulting in few additions to the dog population through breeding; the importation of predominantly male dogs from urban areas resulted in a sex ratios highly dominated by males. These results indicate that dog interactions with wildlife are related to the role of the dog in the household and are directly influenced by their owners. To avoid conflict with local communities in conservation areas, it is important to develop strategies for managing dogs that balance conservation needs with the roles that dogs play in these rural households.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Bird assemblage and cat density

Victoria Sims, Karl L. Evans, Stuart E. Newson, Jamie A. Tratalos and Kevin J. Gaston. 2008.  Avian assemblage structure and domestic cat densities in urban environments. Diversity and Distributions, 14, 387–399

While there is intense debate regarding the impact of domestic cat populations on wildlife, its resolution is hindered by the lack of quite basic information. Domestic cats are generalist and obligate predators that receive supplementary food, and their population density reflects that of humans more than the density of their prey. In such a predator–prey system there is the potential for cat populations to have negative impacts on avian assemblages, which may be indicated by negative correlations between cat density and avian species richness and density. Here we report on the nature of such correlations across urban areas in Britain both for groups of species classified regarding their vulnerability to cat predation and individual species.
Taking the availability of green space into account, we find negative relationships between cat densities and the number of bird species breeding in urban 1 km × 1 km squares. These relationships are particularly strong among groups of species that are vulnerable to cat predation. We find positive correlations between cat and avian densities; these have low explanatory power and shallow slopes among the species groups that are particularly vulnerable to cat predation. Evidence that the densities of individual species that are vulnerable to cat predation are negatively correlated with cat densities is equivocal, with at least half the species showing no marked pattern, and the remainder exhibiting contrasting patterns. Our results appear not to be confounded by the density of nest-predating corvids (carrion crow, magpie, and jay), as the density of these species was not strongly negatively correlated with avian species richness or density. The general lack of marked negative correlations between cat and avian densities at our focal spatial scale may be a consequence of consistently high cat densities in our study areas (minimum density is 132 cats per square kilometre), and thus uniformly high impacts of cat populations on urban avian assemblages.

Cats on islands: impacts other than predation

Medina, F. M., Bonnaud, E., Vidal, E., & Nogales, M. (2014). Underlying impacts of invasive cats on islands: not only a question of predation. Biodiversity and Conservation, 23 (2): 327-342.

The domestic cat has been introduced on most islands worldwide, where it has established feral populations and is currently known to be one of the worst invasive mammalian predators. Predation is the strongest deleterious effect of cats on wildlife, inducing a direct negative impact on population size and dynamics, breeding success and changes in species assemblages. Direct predation is not the only damaging impact on native wildlife, since cats can be responsible for other poorly-documented underlying ecological impacts, like competition, hybridization, disease transmission, ecological process alteration, and behavioral change. Here, we pinpoint relevant examples of these ecological impacts, by searching for accurate data from published literature. We used electronic databases covering most of the world islands where the effects of cats were documented. Knowledge of these impacts can be of great importance to preserve insular ecosystem functions and persistence of endangered native species. We emphasize that direct predation processes should not be the only factor considered in the management of invasive cats on islands.

Impact of introduced cats on island biodiversity

Hervías, S., Oppel, S., Medina, F. M., Pipa, T., Díez, A., Ramos, J. A., Ruiz de Ybáñez, R. & Nogales, M. (2014). Assessing the impact of introduced cats on island biodiversity by combining dietary and movement analysis. Journal of Zoology, 292: 39-47

Populations of feral (not owned by humans) and domestic cats Felis catus coexist in most inhabited islands, and they have similar impacts on native species. Feral cats are generally believed to vary their diet according to prey availability; however, no previous studies of diet have tested this hypothesis on insular ecosystems with a limited range of available prey. Because domestic cats kill prey independently of hunger, the spatial extent of their impact on wildlife will be influenced by home-range size. In this study, we combined dietary information with cat movements to assess the impacts of feral and domestic cats on island biodiversity. We quantified the diet of cats from scat samples collected across one year and tested whether diet varies by season. The abundance of main prey categories was also estimated to document seasonal variation in prey availability for cats. Finally, we tracked domestic cats by global positioning system units in all four seasons to examine whether home-range patterns varied seasonally. The diet of cats constituted three prey groups (rodents, birds and invertebrates), and the seasonal variation in consumption of each taxon matched the seasonal variation in prey availability, thus supporting the generalist behaviour of cats on oceanic islands. Roaming behaviour varied among individuals and across seasons, but could not be explained by availability of prey. Unconfined cats had larger home-ranges than confined cats, but most domestic cats strayed <1 km from home. Thus, confinement of domestic cats might reduce the spatial extent of cat impact on native prey populations on oceanic islands.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Dispersal partner of domestic cats

Devillard, S., Say, L., & Pontier, D. (2003). Dispersal pattern of domestic cats (Felis catus) in a promiscuous urban population: do females disperse or die?.Journal of animal ecology, 72(2), 203-211.

  1. The domestic feral cat (Felis catus L.) is a good model for studying intraspecific variability of dispersal patterns in mammals because cats live under a large diversity of socio-ecological conditions. We analysed both the natal and breeding dispersal patterns of domestic cats in a promiscuous urban population and tested whether or not it differed from the male-biased natal dispersal pattern observed for polygynous rural populations.
  2. During an 8-year study we recorded the exact date of in situ death for 148 marked cats and the exact date of disappearance from the population for 99 other cats. Because undiscovered deaths might over-estimate dispersal probabilities when considering only disappearance probabilities, we made an novel application of multistrata capture–recapture methods in order to disentangle dispersal from true mortality.
  3. We showed that mature females dispersed, both before and after their first reproduction, at 1 and 2 years old. Contrary to females, no dispersal seemed to occur in males. Before sexual maturity, females that disappeared at 1 and 2 years old were in worse body condition than females that stayed in the population area after 2 years old. However, they did not reproduce less successfully before their disappearance than females that died later in the population area.
  4. The female-biased and low natal dispersal pattern in this population was atypical compared to other promiscuous/polygynous mammals and differed from that observed in rural polygynous populations of domestic cat. Neither local mate competition nor inbreeding avoidance appeared to be sufficient pressures to counterbalance ecological constraints on dispersal in an urban environment. However, local resource competition for den sites between potential matriarchies could lead to the breeding dispersal of less competitive females.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Early cat taming in Egypt

Linseele, V., Van Neer, W., & Hendrickx, S. (2007). Evidence for early cat taming in Egypt. Journal of Archaeological Science, 34(12), 2081-2090.

The remains are described of a young small felid found in a Predynastic burial at Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt. Osteometric and zoogeographical arguments indicate that the specimen, dated to around 3700 B.C. on the basis of the associated pottery, belongs to Felis silvestris.
Hunting cat with several bird preys. Tomb of Nebamun 
Thebes, Egypt, 18th dynasty, ca. 1400-1350 BCE.
In the same cemetery several other animal species, both wild and domestic, have been found. The left humerus and right femur of the cat show healed fractures indicating that the animal had been held in captivity for at least 4–6 weeks prior to its burial. We believe that this pathology suggests early cat taming more convincingly than a buried cat recently reported from Neolithic Cyprus (7500 B.C.). Such taming events were probably part of the processes that eventually led to the domestication of Felis silvestris. However, the absence of the cat in Predynastic and Early Dynastic depictions and its rare attestation in the archaeozoological record indicates that domestic status had not yet been attained during those early periods. Other species that were also held in captivity by Ancient Egyptians probably never became domesticated because they had one or more characteristics that prevented it.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Feral cats in a urban conservancy in South Africa

Tennent, J., & Downs, C. T. (2008). Abundance and home ranges of feral cats in an urban conservancy where there is supplemental feeding: a case study from South Africa. African Zoology, 43(2), 218-229.

There is much debate surrounding the impact of feral cats (Felis catus) on wildlife. Conservancies are usually areas where indigenous flora and fauna are protected and aliens excluded or managed. The University of KwaZulu-Natal's Howard College campus (HCC) is an urban conservancy containing feral cats that are presently not managed, and little is known about their ecology and behaviour. Consequently a feral cat population census was conducted, and their home range investigated. Estimates of the overall campus feral cat population numbers ranged between 23.4–40.0 cats/km2  with a minimum of 55 identified as resident. They were not randomly distributed in the study area, with spacing patterns being related to resource availability. Home range area and core distribution of eight radio-collared cats were determined over 13 months. Total home range areas were relatively small, with considerable overlap between them. Home ranges were clustered in areas with permanent feeding stations and these were also within the cats' core ranges. Supplemental food resources appear to have a major influence on numbers, home and core range area, and behavior of cats. It is clear that cat densities grow to high levels with reliable and abundant food supply and only ad hoc sterilization. This has implications for their management in the HCC urban conservancy.

Monday 13 January 2014

Interbreeding of feral and wild cats in Britain

Hubbard, A.L., S. McOrist, T.W. Jones, R. Boid, R. Scott & N. Easterbee. 1992. Is survival of European wildcats Felis silvestris in Britain threatened by interbreeding with domestic cats? Biological Conservation, 61: 203-208.

The relationship of the domestic cat Felis catus in Britain to the European wildcat Felis silvestris remaining in northern Britain includes a significant overlap of the phenotypic features of introgressive hybrids. The status of wildcats as a separate endangered species requiring protection to remain viable in the wild required analysis of their genetic relationship to domestic cats. Despite the discovery of free-living cats with both phenotypic resemblance to F. silvestris and close genetic similarities to F. catus, as measured by nucleic acid probe analysis, albumin heterogeneity (immunological distance) and isoenzyme analysis, eight of 42 putative wildcats caught in remote areas of northern and western Scotland showed clear differences from F. catus in the genetic analyses used. These eight wildcats had pelages consistent with the wildcat; however, 15 of the remaining cats had pelages containing domestic cat characters and had either one or no wildcat genetic character. The results suggest that some genetically distinct European wildcats remain in Britain, and the efforts to prevent interbreeding with domestic cats may enhance their conservation.

See more on domestic cat introgression in wildcat

Saturday 11 January 2014

Parasite transmision from feral cat to captive neotropical felids

Rendón-Franco, E., Romero-Callejas, E., Villanueva-García, C., Osorio-Sarabia, D., & Muñoz-García, C. I. (2013). Cross transmission of gastrointestinal nematodes between captive neotropical felids and feral cats. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 44(4), 936-940.

Pathogen cross transmission between wildlife and domestic animals represents an extinction risk for wildlife; however, reliable verification is difficult to perform, and in some cases, it is even considered unlikely to be conducted. The aim of this work was to identify cross transmission of helminths between feral cats and captive wild felids at a zoological park in southeastern Mexico. Feces were collected from jaguars (Panthera onca), cougars (Puma concolor), ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), margays (Leopardus wiedii), and jaguarundis (Puma yagouaroundi). A flotation technique and macroscopic sieving were performed on the feces. Additionally, as part of the noxious fauna control program of the park, feral cats were captured and euthanized. To perform parasitologic studies, helminths from these animals were recovered. Toxocara cati and Trichuris campanula were shared by jaguarundis and feral cats. Ancylostoma sp. was found in jaguar and ocelot and Ancylostoma tubaeforme in feral cats. Additionally, during this study, a couple of jaguarundis died with clinical signs of trichuriasis. This is the first report of T. campanula in jaguarundi. Because feral cats roam freely in the park, transmission could occur from these vertebrates to wild felids. This study shows the risk that parasites represent to wild felids; a similar situation could be found in free-living species, especially in fragmented habitats that favor contact with domestic animals.

Invasive mammal eradication on Macquarie Island

Springer, K. 2014. Pest Eradication on Macquarie Island. Australia's State of the Islands Report. Pp. 70-80.

Invasive vertebrate species have been present on Macquarie Island for over 200 years, and have had devastating impacts on flora, fauna and landforms. Weka (Gallirallus australis) were successfully eradicated by 1989 and feral cats (Felis catus) by 2001. Planning for the eradication of ship rats (Rattus rattus), house mice (Mus musculus) and European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) began in 2004. Funding of AUD$24.7M was secured in 2007 for a multi-year project based on aerial baiting that targeted rabbits and rodents, followed by hunting of any surviving rabbits. Following three years of planning, the first aerial baiting attempt in 2010 was abandoned after two months due to unfavourable weather and shipping delays. The degree of non-target seabird species mortality from the limited baiting in 2010 lead to a renewed examination of non-target mitigation options. Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) was introduced in February 2011, to reduce the pre-baiting rabbit population and thus minimise non-target mortality amongst scavenging seabirds. Aerial baiting resumed in May 2011 using four AS350 helicopters and a team of 27 people, and was completed by July 2011. No rodents have been detected post-baiting and the estimated rabbit population in excess of 150,000 has been reduced to less than an estimated 30 at the conclusion of baiting. Some rabbits were expected to survive baiting, and the hunting phase commenced in July 2011 using a team of 15 hunters and 12 dogs. By December 2011thirteen rabbits had been accounted for. Hunting efforts are ongoing, and together with a monitoring phase are planned to continue for five years. A minimum of two years monitoring for rabbits will be conducted. Continued effort each year will be based on annual progress reviews. Rodent detection dogs will deploy in 2013 to assist in determining rodent eradication success. After one summer since baiting, vegetation recovery is already evident and increased burrow-nesting seabird activity has also been observed in the first breeding season postbaiting.

Evaluating two census methods

Edwards, G. P., De Preu, N. D., & Crealy, B. S. I. (2000). An evaluation of two methods of assessing feral cat and dingo abundance in central Australia.Wildlife Research, 27(2), 143-149.

We evaluated the efficacy of spotlight surveys and passive track surveys conducted along roads for assessing the relative abundance of feral cats and dingoes in a semi-arid rangeland environment in central Australia. Track surveys were more time-efficient than spotlight surveys and offered higher precision. We cover a range of issues that need to be considered when using track-based surveys to assess population change. We also discuss the merits of other techniques used to monitor the abundance of mammalian carnivores.

Friday 10 January 2014

Attractans for feral cats

Clapperton, B. K., Eason, C. T., Weston, R. J., Woolhouse, A. D., & Morgan, D. R. (1994). Development and testing of attractants for feral cats, Felis catus L. Wildlife Research, 21(4), 389-399.

As part of a programme to improve feral-cat control and eradication techniques, various odours were tested as candidate lures. They included food odours (fish oils), social odours (urine and its components, anal-sac secretions and commercial wild-animal lures) and plant materials (catnip, matatabi and their essential oils). Pen bioassay experiments used a preference procedure on captive feral and domestic cats to compare the time spent investigating the odours and the number of cats visiting each odour. Field trials at rubbish dumps used scent stations to assess cat activity. Catnip and matatabi were the most promising candidate lures in both the pen bioassay and the field trials. Future directions for lure developments are suggested.

Diet of feral cats at a rubbish dump

Hutchings, S. 2003. The diet of feral house cats (Felis catus) at a regional rubbish tip, Victoria. Wildlife Research30:103-110.

The diet of feral cats (Felis catus) inhabiting a regional rubbish tip (dump) in Victoria was studied to determine whether cats utilised garbage or live prey from the surrounding heathlands for food. Between 30 and 50 cat scats were collected from the tip over two years in each of four sampling periods: spring 1997, autumn 1998, spring 1998 and autumn 1999. The scats were analysed to determine major dietary components, dietary breadth and seasonal overlap of diet. Bone fragments from meat scraps were the most frequent dietary item detected in the scats. Vertebrate prey species occurred less often in the cats' diet but a variety of both introduced and native species were represented. Analysis of dietary breadth confirmed that cats selected mainly meat and chicken scraps from the garbage but indicated that vertebrates were hunted opportunistically. Control measures are suggested to reduce cat numbers at regional rubbish tips to relieve potential impact on native wildlife.

Thursday 9 January 2014

Demography of free roaming cats

Nutter, F. B., Levine, J. F., & Stoskopf, M. K. (2004). Reproductive capacity of free-roaming domestic cats and kitten survival rate. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 225(9), 1399-1402.

Objective—To determine reproductive capacity of naturally breeding free-roaming domestic cats and kitten survival rate.
Design—Prospective cohort and retrospective crosssectional study.
Animals—2,332 female cats brought to a trap-neuterreturn clinic for neutering and 71 female cats and 171 kittens comprising 50 litters from a cohort study of feral cats in managed colonies.
Procedure—Data collected for all cats included pregnancy, lactation, and estrus status and number of fetuses for pregnant cats. Additional data collected for feral cats in managed colonies included numbers of litters per year and kittens per litter, date of birth, kitten survival rate, and causes of death.
Results—Pregnant cats were observed in all months of the year, but the percentage of cats found to be pregnant was highest in March, April, and May. Cats produced a mean of 1.4 litters/y, with a median of 3 kittens/litter (range, 1 to 6). Overall, 127 of 169 (75%) kittens died or disappeared before 6 months of age. Trauma was the most common cause of death.
Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results illustrate the high reproductive capacity of free-roaming domestic cats. Realistic estimates of the reproductive capacity of female cats may be useful in assessing the effectiveness of population control strategies. 

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Wild or feral cats in NE France

O’Brien, J., Devillard, S., Say, L., Vanthomme, H., Léger, F., Ruette, S., Pontier, D., 2009. Preserving genetic integrity in a hybridising world: are European Wildcats (Felis silvestris silvestris) in eastern France distinct from sympatric feral domestic cats? Biodiversity Conservation, 18, 2351–2360.

We investigate the genetic profile of putative European Wildcats in north-eastern France, possessing the wildcat phenotype, but sampled in an area where they are sympatric with free-roaming domestic cats and, thus, are exposed to potential hybridisation. From a sample of 209 cats, the programme STRUCTURE clearly identified two distinct genetic clusters that corresponded to European Wildcats and domestic cats. The cats from these two clusters were clearly differentiated from each other (F ST = 0.16). However, the genotypes of some individual cats were split between the two clusters, indicative of genetic admixture. Our analysis demonstrates that a genetically distinct population of cats that possess the European Wildcat phenotype persists in north-eastern France, but that there is a low, yet real, risk of hybridisation with sympatric domestic cats. These European Wildcats warrant conservation efforts to protect their genetic integrity.

See more on domestic cat introgression in wildcat

Cat hybridization in Germany

Krüger, M., Hertwig, S. T., Jetschke, G., & Fischer, M. S. (2009). Evaluation of anatomical characters and the question of hybridization with domestic cats in the wildcat population of Thuringia, Germany. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research, 47(3), 268-282.

Germany’s large population of wildcats (Felis silvestris silvestris) can be clearly distinguished from domestic cats on the basis of morphological characters. However, an examination of 71 specimens from Thuringia also illustrates the risks involved in using only a few such characters. The most reliable tool for identification in the field are three pelage characters (distinctness of tail bands, stripes on the nape and stripes on the shoulder). Only two morphological characters (intestine length and cranial volume) are unambiguous and demonstrate no overlap in distribution between domestic cats and wildcats. A linear discriminant analysis with forward selection of variables showed that only five skull variables are necessary to distinguish all four groups (subspecies × sex). Additionally, the high degree of correlation between most of the 49 variables examined (as indicated by Pearson’s r correlation matrix) speaks against the utility of measuring such high numbers of characters in the future. Principal component analysis (PCA) enabled the subspecies to be separated clearly. The first PCA axis was highly correlated with variables characterizing overall body size, thus separating male and female into wildcats and domestic cats. Even when the chief differentiating characters are missing, the PCA still resulted in a good separation of subspecies. None of the genetically determined hybrids could have been deciphered unambiguously using the morphological characters still intact after a road death. Hybridization seems to occur whenever wildcats change their ecological function and become field cats. The impulse to hybridize seems to come much more from the wildcat side than the side of feral cats, and deforestation represents the major threat to the wildcat.

Hertwig, S. T., Schweizer, M., Stepanow, S., Jungnickel, A., Böhle, U. R., & Fischer, M. S. (2009). Regionally high rates of hybridization and introgression in German wildcat populations (Felis silvestris, Carnivora, Felidae). Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research, 47(3), 283-297.

While the western populations of the wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) in Germany come into contact with wildcats in France and Switzerland, the eastern distribution area is geographically completely isolated and consists of scattered subpopulations. To investigate population structure, evolutionary relationships and degree of hybridization with domestic cats we analysed the mitochondrial control region of 86 cats in combination with 11 microsatellite loci of 149 cats. According to our microsatellite data, German wildcats are divided into two separate populations corresponding to the western and eastern distribution areas. We found no indication of a further subdivision of the eastern population. German wildcat populations are genetically distinct from domestic cats in the main, but we identified 18.4% of the whole wildcat sample as being of hybrid origin, corresponding to 4.2% of the eastern and 42.9% of the western wildcat population, and 2.7% of the domestic cat sample. The mitochondrial haplotypes form a network of three connected clusters and reveal a high level of genetic diversity, especially within the eastern population. Our findings are explained at best in terms of continuous introgression between domestic cats and wildcat populations and differing degrees of recent hybridization in the various populations. Future conservation efforts should focus on preserving the existing gene flow between the isolated distribution areas, but also on preventing the spread of hybrids and limiting the habitat alterations that lead to increased contact with domestic cats. In conclusion we discuss possible evolutionary reasons for the still traceable genetic integrity of the wildcat despite its long history of interbreeding.

See more on domestic cat introgression in wildcat

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Demographic Cat–Rat interactions in an urban environment.

Glass GE, Gardner-Santana LC, Holt RD, Chen J, Shields TM, Roy M, Schachterle S & Klein SL (2009) Trophic Garnishes: Cat–Rat Interactions in an Urban Environment. PLoS ONE 4(6): e5794. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005794


Community interactions can produce complex dynamics with counterintuitive responses. Synanthropic community members are of increasing practical interest for their effects on biodiversity and public health. Most studies incorporating introduced species have been performed on islands where they may pose a risk to the native fauna. Few have examined their interactions in urban environments where they represent the majority of species. We characterized house cat (Felis catus) predation on wild Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus), and its population effects in an urban area as a model system. Three aspects of predation likely to influence population dynamics were examined; the stratum of the prey population killed by predators, the intensity of the predation, and the size of the predator population.

Methodology/Principal Findings
Predation pressure was estimated from the sizes of the rat and cat populations, and the characteristics of rats killed in 20 alleys. Short and long term responses of rat population to perturbations were examined by removal trapping. Perturbations removed an average of 56% of the rats/alley but had no negative long-term impact on the size of the rat population (49.6±12.5 rats/alley and 123.8±42.2 rats/alley over two years). The sizes of the cat population during two years (3.5 animals/alley and 2.7 animals/alley) also were unaffected by rat population perturbations. Predation by cats occurred in 9/20 alleys. Predated rats were predominantly juveniles and significantly smaller (144.6 g±17.8 g) than the trapped rats (385.0 g±135.6 g). Cats rarely preyed on the larger, older portion of the rat population.
The rat population appears resilient to perturbation from even substantial population reduction using targeted removal. In this area there is a relatively low population density of cats and they only occasionally prey on the rat population. This occasional predation primarily removes the juvenile proportion of the rat population. The top predator in this urban ecosystem appears to have little impact on the size of the prey population, and similarly, reduction in rat populations doesn't impact the size of the cat population. However, the selected targeting of small rats may locally influence the size structure of the population which may have consequences for patterns of pathogen transmission.

Monday 6 January 2014

Incursion of domestic carnivores around urban areas: Three camera-trapping studies

Marks, B. K., & Duncan, R. S. (2009). Use of forest edges by free-ranging cats and dogs in an urban forest fragment. Southeastern Naturalist8(3), 427-436.

Free-ranging Felis catus (Domestic Cat) and Canis familiaris (Domestic Dog) can greatly impact native prey populations, but little is known about their occurrence in urban forest fragments. In this study, we used camera traps to photograph (capture) cats, dogs, and native wildlife in a 409-ha urban forest in Birmingham, AL from Jan–Apr 2007. Habitat treatments included forest interior and forest edges by industrial lands, neighborhoods with higher house values, and neighborhoods with lower house values. We employed both conservative (n = 31) and liberal (n = 64) methods of tallying the number of individual dogs, cats, and native mammals captured. Dogs and cats combined comprised 19% (conservative) and 26% (liberal) of all photographic captures. Procyon lotor (Raccoon) were the most abundant of the 7 native species at 32% (conservative) and 53% (liberal) of all captures. Dogs were more abundant in neighborhood edges, and cats were more abundant in the forest interior. Cats and dogs combined were 75% (conservative) and 86% (liberal) of captures from the forest interior. Captures of native species were far more frequent in neighborhood edges (conservative = 86.9%, and liberal = 92.3%) than in other treatments. These findings demonstrate that exotic predators can be an important ecological presence in certain portions of urban forest fragments, and more extensive studies of their impact are needed.

Ordeñana, M.A, K. R. Crooks, E.E. Boydston, R.N. Fisher, L.M. Lyren, S. Siudyla, C.D. Haas, S. Harris, S.A. Hathaway, G.M. Turschak, A. K. Miles, & D.H. Van Vuren (2010) Effects of urbanization on carnivore species distribution and richness. Journal of Mammalogy, 91 (6): 1322-1331.

Urban development can have multiple effects on mammalian carnivore communities. We conducted a meta-analysis of 7,929 photographs from 217 localities in 11 camera-trap studies across coastal southern California to describe habitat use and determine the effects of urban proximity (distance to urban edge) and intensity (percentage of area urbanized) on carnivore occurrence and species richness in natural habitats close to the urban boundary. Coyotes (Canis latrans) and bobcats (Lynx rufus) were distributed widely across the region. Domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), raccoons (Procyon lotor), gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), mountain lions (Puma concolor), and Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) were detected less frequently, and long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata), American badgers (Taxidea taxus), western spotted skunks (Spilogale gracilis), and domestic cats (Felis catus) were detected rarely. Habitat use generally reflected availability for most species. Coyote and raccoon occurrence increased with both proximity to and intensity of urbanization, whereas bobcat, gray fox, and mountain lion occurrence decreased with urban proximity and intensity. Domestic dogs and Virginia opossums exhibited positive and weak negative relationships, respectively, with urban intensity but were unaffected by urban proximity. Striped skunk occurrence increased with urban proximity but decreased with urban intensity. Native species richness was negatively associated with urban intensity but not urban proximity, probably because of the stronger negative response of individual species to urban intensity.

Fandos, G., Fernández-López, J., & Tellería, J. L. (2012). Incursion of domestic carnivores around urban areas: a test in central Spain. Mammalia, 76(2), 223-225.

Although domestic carnivores are frequently considered a threat to wildlife inside and around urban areas, little is known about the incursions of these animals from urban areas to the surrounding habitats. To explore this, we sampled carnivores in wooded areas surrounding four villages located in the mountains north of Madrid by using 40 camera-trapping stations. They were distributed at regular distances within a perpendicular transect distributed from 10 to 2000 m from the urban border. The results suggest that the incidence of domestic carnivores (cats and dogs) was constrained to <400 m from the urban border, and that the presence of domestic carnivores did not interfere with the distribution of wild carnivores (foxes, beech martens, badgers, genets, etc.), which show random distribution patterns around villages. This means that overpredation at the village edges could mainly be due to the effect of domestic animals and not to that of wild carnivores attracted to urban areas

Sunday 5 January 2014

Costs of rabies control at Flores Island.

Wera, E., Velthuis, A. G., Geong, M., & Hogeveen, H. (2013). Costs of Rabies Control: An Economic Calculation Method Applied to Flores Island. PLOS ONE,8(12), e83654.


Rabies is a zoonotic disease that, in most human cases, is fatal once clinical signs appear. The disease transmits to humans through an animal bite. Dogs are the main vector of rabies in humans on Flores Island, Indonesia, resulting in about 19 human deaths each year. Currently, rabies control measures on Flores Island include mass vaccination and culling of dogs, laboratory diagnostics of suspected rabid dogs, putting imported dogs in quarantine, and pre- and post-exposure treatment (PET) of humans. The objective of this study was to estimate the costs of the applied rabies control measures on Flores Island.

Methodology/principal findings

A deterministic economic model was developed to calculate the costs of the rabies control measures and their individual cost components from 2000 to 2011. The inputs for the economic model were obtained from (i) relevant literature, (ii) available data on Flores Island, and (iii) experts such as responsible policy makers and veterinarians involved in rabies control measures in the past. As a result, the total costs of rabies control measures were estimated to be US$1.12 million (range: US$0.60–1.47 million) per year. The costs of culling roaming dogs were the highest portion, about 39 percent of the total costs, followed by PET (35 percent), mass vaccination (24 percent), pre-exposure treatment (1.4 percent), and others (1.3 percent) (dog-bite investigation, diagnostic of suspected rabid dogs, trace-back investigation of human contact with rabid dogs, and quarantine of imported dogs).


This study demonstrates that rabies has a large economic impact on the government and dog owners. Control of rabies by culling dogs is relatively costly for the dog owners in comparison with other measures. Providing PET for humans is an effective way to prevent rabies, but is costly for government and does not provide a permanent solution to rabies in the future.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Home range and movements of feral cats on Mauna Kea

Goltz, D. M., Hess, S. C., Brinck, K. W., Banko, P. C., & Danner, R. M. (2008). Home range and movements of feral cats on Mauna Kea, Hawai ‘i. USGS Staff -- Published Research.Paper 644

Feral cats Felis catus in dry subalpine woodland of Mauna Kea, Hawai‘i, live in low density and exhibit some of the largest reported home ranges in the literature. While 95% fixed kernel home range estimates for three females averaged 772 ha, four males averaged 1 418 ha, and one male maintained a home range of 2 050 ha. Mean daily movement rates between sexes overlapped widely and did not differ significantly (P = 0.083). Log-transformed 95% kernel home ranges for males were significantly larger than those of females (P = 0.024), but 25% kernel home ranges for females were larger than those of males (P = 0.017). Moreover, log-transformed home ranges of males were also significantly larger than those of females in this and seven other studies from the Pacific region (P = 0.044). Feral cats present a major threat to endangered Hawaiian birds, but knowledge of their ecology can be used for management by optimizing trap spacing and creating buffer zones around conservation areas.

Using genetics to plannify feral cat control

Hansen, H., Hess, S. C., Cole, D., & Banko, P. C. (2008). Using population genetic tools to develop a control strategy for feral cats (Felis catus) in Hawai'i.Wildlife Research, 34(8), 587-596.

Population genetics can provide information about the demographics and dynamics of invasive species that is beneficial for developing effective control strategies. We studied the population genetics of feral cats on Hawai‘i Island by microsatellite analysis to evaluate genetic diversity and population structure, assess gene flow and connectivity among three populations, identify potential source populations, characterise population dynamics, and evaluate sex-biased dispersal. High genetic diversity, low structure, and high number of migrants per generation supported high gene flow that was not limited spatially. Migration rates revealed that most migration occurred out of West Mauna Kea. Effective population size estimates indicated increasing cat populations despite control efforts. Despite high gene flow, relatedness estimates declined significantly with increased geographic distance and Bayesian assignment tests revealed the presence of three population clusters. Genetic structure and relatedness estimates indicated male-biased dispersal, primarily from Mauna Kea, suggesting that this population should be targeted for control. However, recolonisation seems likely, given the great dispersal ability that may not be inhibited by barriers such as lava flows. Genetic monitoring will be necessary to assess the effectiveness of future control efforts. Management of other invasive species may benefit by employing these population genetic tools.

Impact of feral cat and fox on Socrota cormorant on Siniya Island

Muzaffar, S. B., Benjamin, S., & Gubiani, R. E. (2013). The impact of fox and feral cat predation on the population viability of the threatened, endemic Socotra cormorant on Siniya Island, United Arab Emirates. Marine Ornithology, 41, 171-177.

Seabirds are vulnerable to a variety of threats occurring at breeding colonies, including disturbance, habitat degradation and predation from terrestrial predators. Socotra Cormorants Phalacrocorax nigrogularis are threatened, regionally endemic seabirds restricted to the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman regions. Populations have been collapsing throughout their range, mostly in response to habitat loss from oil exploitation and disturbance at breeding sites. Almost half of the historically abundant colonies have disappeared, and the global breeding population has suffered catastrophic declines over the last 30 years. Siniya Island, Umm Al Quwain, hosts the largest colony in the United Arab Emirates with an estimated 15 500 breeding pairs. Predation by feral cats Felis catus and native red foxes Vulpes vulpes constitutes a major threat to this colony. We simulated population trends under different mortality levels using the software Vortex. The baseline model was parameterized using data on Socotra Cormorants or other cormorant species. Simulation of the baseline model showed a gradual increase in population, assuming carrying capacity of Siniya Island was 50 000 individuals. Compared with the baseline, within 50 years, a mortality of 900 individuals per year would reduce the population to fewer than 5 000 breeding pairs; mortality of 1 800 or 2 000 individuals per year would reduce the population to a few hundred pairs. Populations were more susceptible to adult mortality in all mortality scenarios (900, 1 800, and 2 000 individuals/year), leading to reductions to near-extinction levels. Our estimates of predation-related mortality were conservative, and the trends implied by the population model could potentially be catastrophic to the species. Eradication of feral cats and red foxes is recommended as a management tool to ensure long-term survival of this colony

Friday 3 January 2014

Cat responsible of extinctions on Mangere Is.

Tennyson, A. J. D., & Millener, P. R. (1994). Bird extinctions and fossil bones from Mangere Island, Chatham Islands. Notornis, 41(supplement), 165-178.

Fossil bones and earlier observations indicate that up to 22 species of bird have become extinct on Mangere Island. The extinctions appear to have been primarily a result of predation by cats, but human hunting and bush clearance are likely to account for the disappearance of some species. A crested penguin Eudyptes ?n.sp., two species of Pterodroma petrel, a shelduck Tadorna ?n.sp., Dieffenbach's Rail Gallirallus dieffenbachii, and a kaka Nestor ?n.sp. are present in fossil deposits on Mangere Island, but have not been reported from the island before. The relative proportion of remains in the deposits suggest that Blue Penguins Eudyptula minur, Broad-billed Prions Pachyptila vinata and Sooty Shearwaters Puffinus griseus have become more common on the island. Any such increases on Mangere Island, could have been a response of a few species to the large decrease in numbers and diversity that has affected seabirds as a whole at the Chatharns. Some seabird species mav have been able to increase because of reduced competition for-food.

Demographics of rabies in Iran

Vahdati, S. S., Mesbahi, N., Anvarian, M., Habibollahi, P., & Babapour, S. 2013. Demographics of rabies exposure in north-west of Iran: 5 years experience. J Analyt Res Clin Med; 1(1): 18-21.

BACKGROUND: Rabies is a neuropathogenic disease, always fatal, which involves domestic and wild animals and attracted global concern for its distribution. This research aimed to demonstrate potential rabies infected animal bites and related risk factors in North-West of Iran in order to evaluate the area’s demographics and risk factors.

METHODS: A retrospective cross-sectional review was done for patients referred to Rabies Disease Control and Prevention Center placed in Sina Hospital, Tabriz, Iran.

RESULTS: A total of 1084 patients, 918 men and 166 women (777 city and 307 rural residential) were enrolled in this study. Median age ranged from 20 to 30 years. Accidents were the highest in January and May. Dogs accounted for 72.4%, cats 20.6%, rats 4.1% and others 3%. 45.8% of the attacks occurred at homes, 41.8% outdoors, and 12.4% at work. 80.4% of them were pet animals, 15.6% were outdoors and 4.1% were wild. 80.4% were under observation, 17.5% escaped, and 2.1% were killed. Superficial bites accounted for 78.7% of all bites, and 21.3% were deeply bitten. Bites conflicted to upper limbs (50.6%), lower limb (43.5%), head (2.4%), neck (0.6%), chest (1.8%), abdomen (0.7%), and genitalia (0.3%). 54.3% of all the bite exposures occurred in covered sites whereas 45.7% affected naked sites. Surprisingly, 98.6% of the animal, mostly pets, had no history of vaccination.

CONCLUSIONS: This research admitted lacked attention in vaccination when it would have been appropriate, led to rabies disease which is always fatal. Bite rates were higher among adult males, in cities by dogs. Upper limbs, mostly covered, were bitten commonly superficial.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Sanitary conditions of a colony of urban feral cats in a zoological garden of Rio de Janeiro

Mendes-de-Almeida, F., Faria, M. C. F., Branco, A. S., Serrão, M. L., Souza, A. M., Almosny, N., Charme, M. & Labarthe, N. (2004). Sanitary conditions of a colony of urban feral cats (Felis catus Linnaeus, 1758) in a zoological garden of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Revista do Instituto de Medicina Tropical de São Paulo, 46(5), 269-274.

The colony of urban stray cats living in the Rio de Janeiro zoological garden was studied in order to develop a population and health control program. As many cats as possible were captured during two months (47 animals) and were classified according to gender, age, weight and coat markings. They were submitted to a general health evaluation, examined for the presence of ectoparasites and sent to a surgical neutering program. All animals had a blood sample drawn for CBC, platelet count, heartworm and retroviruses detection. Capillary blood smears were made for hemoparasites detection. Coat marking and colors were tabby (59.7%), followed by solid black (17%); torbie (10.6%); bicolor (10.6%) and harlequin (2.1%). The only ectoparasites found were fleas, which infested 28% of the animals. The hemoparasites found were Haemobartonella felis (38%) and piroplasmas that could not be differentiated between Cytauxzoon spp. and Babesia spp. (47%). No cat was found infected by Dirofilaria immitis or FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus), although FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) antibodies could be detected (21%). There was no correlation between hemoparasites and FIV infections. The estimated total cat population (mark-recapture method) was 59; 68% female and 32% male, suggesting that a neutering program is in fact needed.

Fencing to eradicate cats, and others, from large islands

Bode, M., Brennan, K. E., Helmstedt, K., Desmond, A., Smia, R., & Algar, D. (2013). Interior fences can reduce cost and uncertainty when eradicating invasive species from large islands. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 4 ( 9): 819–827
  1. The conservation of many threatened species can be advanced by the eradication of alien invasive animals from islands. However, island eradications are an expensive, difficult and uncertain undertaking. An increasingly common eradication strategy is the construction of ‘interior fences’ to partition islands into smaller, independent eradication regions that can be treated sequentially or concurrently. Proponents argue that, while interior fences incur substantial up front construction costs, they reduce overall eradication costs. However, this hypothesis lacks an explicit theoretical or empirical justification.
  2. We formulate a general theory that relates the number of interior fences to the magnitude and variation of the economic cost of island eradication. We use this theory to explore the conditions under which interior fences represent a defensible management strategy, under cost and risk minimisation objectives. We then specifically consider the forthcoming eradication of cats Felis catus from Dirk Hartog Island, Western Australia, by parameterising our general theory using published data on the cost and success of previous projects.
  3. Our results predict that under a wide range of reasonable conditions, interior fences can reduce the expected cost of a successful invasive alien animal eradication from large islands. On Dirk Hartog Island, interior fences will marginally reduce eradication costs, with two fences reducing expected costs by 3%. Interior fences have a much more substantial effect on the variability of eradication costs: two fences reduce the width of the 95% confidence bounds by more than one-third and halve the size of the average project cost overrun/underrun.
  4. Our results reveal that the construction of interior fences is a defensible management strategy for eradicating alien invasive species from islands. However, the primary benefit of interior fences will be risk management, rather than a reduction in expected project costs.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Social and genetic analysis of a population of free-living cats at a waste disposal site

Denny, E., Yakovlevich, P., Eldridge, M. D., & Dickman, C. (2002). Social and genetic analysis of a population of free-living cats (Felis catus L.) exploiting a resource-rich habitat. Wildlife Research, 29(4), 405-413.

Free-living cats (Felis catus L.) exploiting a waste-disposal site in rural Australia were studied for two years to investigate population structure and dynamics, and the relatedness of constituent individuals. The density of the population was equivalent to 700–750 cats  km-2  the sex ratio was heavily skewed towards males, breeding occurred from July to April, and kitten survival rates were low. A combination of observational data, biometrics and microsatellite loci analyses was used to assess the relatedness of individuals in the population; these methods yielded highly congruent results. Thus, a female kin-group of three was identified, there was no female immigration, the average relatedness amongst the population was high and there was no indication of male dominance. The results indicate that cats at the site formed a tightly structured group, rather than an ad hoc collection of individuals. The stable, resource-rich habitat of waste-disposal sites may generally support high densities of group-forming cats in rural Australia, and pose broad-scale but previously unrecognised problems for effective management of free-living cats.
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