Variation in feral cat density between two large adjacent islands in Australia’s monsoon tropics

Date: 16, Mar, 2021
Author(s):   Davies, H.F., Tiwi Land Rangers, Rees, M.W., Stokeld, D., Miller, A.C., Gillespie, G.R. Murphy. B.P.
Publisher: Pacific Conservation Biology

Despite contributing to the ongoing collapse of native mammal populations across northern Australian savannas, we have limited understanding of the ecological constraints of feral cat population density in this system. Addressing such knowledge gaps is a crucial step towards mitigating the impacts of feral cats, and is particularly important for the large islands off northern Australia that remain as strongholds for numerous species vulnerable to cat predation. Here, we investigated cat density across Melville and Bathurst Island, two large islands in Australia’s monsoon tropics. We deployed large grids (~13 km2) of 70 camera-traps at four locations to investigate how feral cat density varies under different combinations of fire frequency, and feral herbivore presence. Using spatially-explicit capture-recapture models, we estimated feral cat density on Melville Island to be 0.15 cats km−2. We did not record any cat detections on Bathurst Island. Using simulations, we predicted that if cat density on Bathurst Island was equal to that on Melville Island, we would have expected to record 27.9 detections of 9.9 individual cats. Our results, coupled with other recent surveys, suggest that the density of cats is much lower on Bathurst Island than the adjacent Melville Island. The absence of feral herbivores on Bathurst Island may have contributed to this variation in cat density. Management that enhances understorey vegetation density, through feral herbivore control, as well as fire management, could help mitigate the impact of feral cats on northern Australian savanna biodiversity.