Abundance and detection of feral cats decreases after severe fire on Kangaroo Island, Australia

Rosemary Hohnen, Alex I. James, Paul Jennings, Brett P. Murphy, Karleah Berris, Sarah M. Legge, Chris R. Dickman, John C.Z. Woinarski

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Abstract

Predation by feral cats (Felis catus) has caused the extinction of many native species in Australia and globally. There is growing evidence that the impacts of feral cats can be amplified in post-fire environments, as cats are drawn to hunt in or around recently burnt areas and are also more effective hunters in open habitats. In 2018–2019, we established arrays of camera traps to estimate the abundance of feral cats on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Much of the island (including five of our seven survey sites) was subsequently burnt in a severe wildfire (December 2019–February 2020). We re-sampled the sites 3–8 months post-fire (seven sites) and 11–12 months post-fire (three sites). At two unburnt sites sampled post-fire, it was possible to produce density estimates of cats using a spatially explicit capture–recapture approach. Where estimating density was not possible (due to low detections or individual cats not being distinguishable), the number of individuals and percentage of trap nights with detections was compared between the sampling periods. Some low-level cat control occurred within 2 km of three of the seven arrays (all within the burn scar) within 3 months of the fire. Across the five burnt sites, there was a decline in cat detections post-fire (including those without post-fire cat control). At 3–8 months post-fire, there was, on average, a 57% reduction in the number of individual cats, and a 65% reduction in the number of nights with cat detections, relative to pre-fire levels. Although cat detections declined following the fire, reduced population sizes of prey species and reduced cover as a result of the fire might still mean that cat predation is a threat to some surviving prey species. Management that reduces feral cat predation pressure on wildlife following wildfire should enhance the likelihood of post-fire wildlife persistence and recovery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)600-615
Number of pages16
JournalAustral Ecology
Volume48
Issue number3
Early online date2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2023

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