While feral cats tend to cluster in cities, due to high resource abundance, they spread out more in places with little human resources and tend to have higher impacts on endangered wildlife, since they are more abundant in these areas. Cats also uniquely threaten endangered species of their own genus by interbreeding with them and therefore reducing the native gene pool of the original species.
To examine what affects the spatial ecology of cats in such environments, a team of researchers studied the feral cats in the Moura-Barrancos Nature 2000 site and part of a Bird Special Protection Area around the agroforestry areas surrounding the village of
Barrancos in the Southeast Portuguese-Spanish border, as detailed below.
The researchers only found visual evidence of cats (through live- and photo-trapping) on farmland. The best predictor for presence of cats at the farms were presence of people and length of roads and of nearby rivers. While density of these cat populations were predictable by presence of people and supplemental feeding.
Using data from five males and three females, the home ranges of the cats were found to be the farms they lived on and on average about three miles out, with males cats having larger ranges. Cat movements beyond the home ranges were mostly conducted my males who were traveling to other farms with cat populations, especially during mating season.
These data also showed cats preferred human settlements and flat areas within 200 meters of roads, with settlements more so preferred. In terms of daily movements, cats seemed to generally avoid areas with red foxes and often crossed roads and lower elevations, mainly due to the farms being at higher elevations.
This study, like others, shows that cats rely on human settlements not only as habitats but also as stepping stones across the landscape, with competing predators acting as deterrents to moving beyond human settlement. Studies have also found this accurate for feral dogs. Thus, planning of cities and other settlements can take these factors into consideration so as to reduce the effect of domestic animals on wildlife, endangered or otherwise.
Ferreira, J. P., Leitão, I., Santos-Reis, M., & Revilla, E. (2011). Human-related factors regulate the spatial ecology of domestic cats in sensitive areas for conservation. PLoS One, 6(10), e25970.
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