Enumerating a continental-scale threat: How many feral cats are in Australia?

Sarah M Legge, B P Murphy, Hugh McGregor, John Woinarski, John Augusteyn, Guy Ballard, Marcus Baseler, Tony Buckmaster, Chris R Dickman, Tim Doherty, Glenn Edwards, Teresa Eyre, Bronwyn A Fancourt, Daniel Ferguson, David M Forsyth, William L Geary, Matthew Gentle, Graeme Gillespie, Tamsin Greenwood, Rosie HohnenShane Hume, Chris N Johnson, Marika Maxwell, Peter J McDonald, Keith Morris, Katherine Moseby, Thomas Newsome, Dale Nimmo, Rachel Paltridge, David Ramsey, John Read, Anthony Rendall, Maree Rich, Euan Ritchie, Jesse Rowland, Jeff Short, Danielle Stokeld, Duncan Sutherland, Adrian Wayne, Luke Woodford, Frances Zewe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

62 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Feral cats (Felis catus) have devastated wildlife globally. In Australia, feral cats are implicated in most recent mammal extinctions and continue to threaten native species. Cat control is a high-profile priority for Australian policy, research and management. To develop the evidence-base to support this priority, we first review information on cat presence/absence on Australian islands and mainland cat-proof exclosures, finding that cats occur across >99.8% of Australia's land area. Next, we collate 91 site-based feral cat density estimates in Australia and examine the influence of environmental and geographic influences on density. We extrapolate from this analysis to estimate that the feral cat population in natural environments fluctuates between 1.4 million (95% confidence interval: 1.0-2.3 million) after continent-wide droughts, to 5.6 million (95% CI: 2.5-11 million) after extensive wet periods. We estimate another 0.7 million feral cats occur in Australia's highly modified environments (urban areas, rubbish dumps, intensive farms). Feral cat densities are higher on small islands than the mainland, but similar inside and outside conservation land. Mainland cats reach highest densities in arid/semi-arid areas after wet periods. Regional variation in cat densities corresponds closely with attrition rates for native mammal fauna. The overall population estimate for Australia's feral cats (in natural and highly modified environments), fluctuating between 2.1 and 6.3 million, is lower than previous estimates, and Australian feral cat densities are lower than reported for North America and Europe. Nevertheless, cats inflict severe impacts on Australian fauna, reflecting the sensitivity of Australia's native species to cats and reinforcing that policy, research and management to reduce their impacts is critical.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-303
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Conservation
Volume206
Early online date20 Dec 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017

Grant Number

  • LP100100033

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    Legge, S. M., Murphy, B. P., McGregor, H., Woinarski, J., Augusteyn, J., Ballard, G., Baseler, M., Buckmaster, T., Dickman, C. R., Doherty, T., Edwards, G., Eyre, T., Fancourt, B. A., Ferguson, D., Forsyth, D. M., Geary, W. L., Gentle, M., Gillespie, G., Greenwood, T., ... Zewe, F. (2017). Enumerating a continental-scale threat: How many feral cats are in Australia? Biological Conservation, 206, 293-303. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2016.11.032