Context: Recent global concern over invertebrate declines has drawn attention to the causes and consequences of this loss of biodiversity. Feral cats, Felis catus, pose a major threat to many vertebrate species in Australia, but their effect on invertebrates has not previously been assessed.
Aims: The objectives of our study were to (1) assess the frequency of occurrence (FOO) of invertebrates in feral cat diets across Australia and the environmental and geographic factors associated with this variation, (2) estimate the number of invertebrates consumed by feral cats annually and the spatial variation of this consumption, and (3) interpret the conservation implications of these results.
Methods: From 87 Australian cat-diet studies, we modelled the factors associated with variation in invertebrate FOO in feral cat-diet samples. We used these modelled relationships to predict the number of invertebrates consumed by feral cats in largely natural and highly modified environments.
Key results: In largely natural environments, the mean invertebrate FOO in feral cat dietary samples was 39% (95% CI: 31–43.5%), with Orthoptera being the most frequently recorded order, at 30.3% (95% CI: 21.2–38.3%). The highest invertebrate FOO occurred in lower-rainfall areas with a lower mean annual temperature, and in areas of greater tree cover. Mean annual invertebrate consumption by feral cats in largely natural environments was estimated to be 769 million individuals (95% CI: 422–1763 million) and in modified environments (with mean FOO of 27.8%) 317 million invertebrates year−1, giving a total estimate of 1086 million invertebrates year−1 consumed by feral cats across the continent.
Conclusions: The number of invertebrates consumed by feral cats in Australia is greater than estimates for vertebrate taxa, although the biomass (and, hence, importance for cat diet) of invertebrates taken would be appreciably less. The impact of predation by cats on invertebrates is difficult to assess because of the lack of invertebrate population and distribution estimates, but cats may pose a threat to some large-bodied narrowly restricted invertebrate species.
Implications: Further empirical studies of local and continental invertebrate diversity, distribution and population trends are required to adequately contextualise the conservation threat posed by feral cats to invertebrates across Australia.