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Avian assemblage structure and domestic cat densities in urban environments

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While there is intense debate regarding the impact of domestic cat populations on wildlife, its resolution is hindered by the lack of quite basic information. Domestic cats are generalist and obligate predators that receive supplementary food, and their population density reflects that of humans more than the density of their prey. In such a predator–prey system there is the potential for cat populations to have negative impacts on avian assemblages, which may be indicated by negative correlations between cat density and avian species richness and density. Here we report on the nature of such correlations across urban areas in Britain both for groups of species classified regarding their vulnerability to cat predation and individual species. Taking the availability of green space into account, we find negative relationships between cat densities and the number of bird species breeding in urban 1 km × 1 km squares. These relationships are particularly strong among groups of species that are vulnerable to cat predation. We find positive correlations between cat and avian densities; these have low explanatory power and shallow slopes among the species groups that are particularly vulnerable to cat predation. Evidence that the densities of individual species that are vulnerable to cat predation are negatively correlated with cat densities is equivocal, with at least half the species showing no marked pattern, and the remainder exhibiting contrasting patterns. Our results appear not to be confounded by the density of nest-predating corvids (carrion crow, magpie, and jay), as the density of these species was not strongly negatively correlated with avian species richness or density. The general lack of marked negative correlations between cat and avian densities at our focal spatial scale may be a consequence of consistently high cat densities in our study areas (minimum density is 132 cats per square kilometre), and thus uniformly high impacts of cat populations on urban avian assemblages.

Keywords: Domestic cats; birds; corvids; population density; predation; species richness; urban

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Biodiversity and Macroecology Group, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK, 2: British Trust for Ornithology, the Nunnery, Thetford IP24 2 PU, UK

Publication date: March 1, 2008


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