Cats are a key threatening factor to the survival of local populations of native small mammals in Australia's tropical savannas: Evidence from translocation trials with Rattus tunneyi

Katherine Tuft, Sarah Legge, Anke S.K. Frank, Alex I. James, Tegan May, Ethan Page, Ian J. Radford, John C.Z. Woinarski, Alaric Fisher, Michael J. Lawes, Iain J. Gordon, Chris N. Johnson

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    Abstract

    Context: Invasive predators are a key threat to biodiversity worldwide. In Australia, feral cats are likely to be responsible for many extinctions of native mammal species in the south and centre of the continent. Aims: Here we examine the effect of feral cats on native rodent populations in the second of two translocation experiments. Methods: In a wild-to-wild translocation, we introduced pale field rats, Rattus tunneyi, whose populations are declining in the wild, into two pairs of enclosures where accessibility by feral cats was manipulated. Key results: Individual rats translocated into enclosures accessible to cats were rapidly extirpated after cats were first detected visiting the enclosures. Rats in the enclosure not exposed to cats were 6.2 times more likely to survive than those exposed to cats. Two individual cats were responsible for the deaths of all but 1 of 18 cat-accessible rats. Rats in the site with denser ground cover persisted better than in the site with more open cover. Conclusions: These results are consistent with our previous study of a different native rat species in the same experimental setup, and provide further evidence that, even at low densities, feral cats can drive local populations of small mammals to extinction. Implications: Effective feral cat control may be necessary to enable recovery of small mammals.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberWR20193
    JournalWildlife Research
    Early online date2 Jul 2021
    DOIs
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Jul 2021

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