Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité. Mais tu ne dois pas l'oublier, dit le renard. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.
Le Petit Prince, chap. 21

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Smartphone and GPS for free-roaming dog population monitoring

Barnard, S., Ippoliti, C., Di Flaviano, D., De Ruvo, A., Messori, S., Giovannini, A., & Dalla Villa, P. (2015). Smartphone and GPS technology for free-roaming dog population surveillance-a methodological study. Veterinaria italiana, 51(3), 165-172.

Free-roaming dogs (FRD) represent a potential threat to the quality of life in cities from an ecological, social and public health point of view. One of the most urgent concerns is the role of uncontrolled dogs as reservoirs of infectious diseases transmittable to humans and, above all, rabies. An estimate of the FRD population size and characteristics in a given area is the first step for any relevant intervention programme. Direct count methods are still prominent because of their non-invasive approach, information technologies can support such methods facilitating data collection and allowing for a more efficient data handling. This paper presents a new framework for data collection using a topological algorithm implemented as ArcScript in ESRI® ArcGIS software, which allows for a random selection of the sampling areas. It also supplies a mobile phone application for Android®  operating system devices which integrates Global Positioning System (GPS) and Google MapsTM. The potential of such a framework was tested in 2 Italian regions. Coupling technological and innovative solutions associated with common counting methods facilitate data collection and transcription. It also paves the way to future applications, which could support dog population management systems.

Alien predator control to benefit endangered Hawaiian waterfowl

Underwood, J. G., Silbernagle, M., Nishimoto, M., & Uyehara, K. J. 2014. Non-native Mammalian Predator Control to Benefit Endangered Hawaiian Waterbirds. Proc. 26th Vertebr. Pest Conf. (R. M. Timm and J. M. O’Brien, Eds.) Published at Univ. of Calif., Davis. 2014. Pp. 32-39.

Hawai‘i’s wetlands are inhabited by 5 endangered endemic waterbird species: the Hawaiian stilt (ae‘o), Hawaiian coot (‘alae ke‘oke‘o), Hawaiian duck (koloa maoli), Hawaiian goose (nēnē), and Hawaiian gallinule/Moorhen (‘alae ‘ula). One of the biggest threats facing these waterbirds is predation by non-native mammalian predators. Non-native cats, rats, and mongooses all directly depredate either eggs, young, or adult birds. Control of these predators is a key component of the active management strategy employed to recover Hawaiian waterbirds. Predator control efforts have included live or kill traps, rodenticide bait stations, and fences in areas important for the waterbirds. To evaluate the success of these predator control efforts on key wetland national wildlife refuges in Hawai‘i, we explored 4 metrics: live trap capture history, rodent and mongoose presence/absence using track tunnels, waterbird population densities, and waterbird reproductive success. The track tunnel data documented lower predator density within the predator control areas. The live trapping capture history data showed strong spatial patterns of higher success along perimeter fence lines and limited success within the interior of the wetlands. We also found that areas receiving predator control had both higher reproductive success and, in most cases, greater waterbird population densities. These findings support mammalian predator control as a key management strategy to promote recovery of these endangered species.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Habitat and mesopredator activity as predictors of bird densitiy in urban parks

Thieme, J. L., Rodewald, A. D., Brown, J., Anchor, C., & Gehrt, S. D. (2015). Linking Grassland and Early Successional Bird Territory Density to Predator Activity in Urban Parks. Natural Areas Journal, 35(4), 515-532.

The proximity of urban green spaces to anthropogenic food sources can promote high densities of predators that may negatively affect breeding birds. Not only can high numbers of predators depress reproduction and survival, but birds may behaviorally respond by avoiding those patches, thereby diminishing the value of urban habitats. During 2010 and 2011, we examined relationships between avian territory density and activity of nest predators in 36 2-ha plots within six urban grassland and early successional parks (sites) near Chicago, Illinois. At the plot (i.e., local) scale, densities of common yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas), field sparrows (Spizella pusilla), and savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) were more strongly linked to habitat characteristics than predators. Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) and eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna) densities were not associated with habitat at the plot scale, but together were negatively related to activity of avian predators. Surprisingly, densities of song sparrows were positively associated with snake activity at both plot and site (i.e., landscape) scales, and densities of savannah sparrows increased moderately with activity of mesopredators at the site scale. Our results suggest that although habitat structure is a strong predictor of grassland bird densities in this urban matrix, activity of predators also may contribute to patterns of territory selection of certain bird species. With this in mind, managers encouraging settlement of grassland birds within urban preserves may consider (a) increasing dense groundcover that provides protective cover for songbirds, and (b) discouraging activities that promote activity of avian predators, particularly corvids.

Camera trapping of college's feral cats

Bainum, III,M., K.E. Sieving, R. McCleery, & D Wald.2015. Demonstrating camera trap techniques and their application for identifying feral cats across a college campus. University of Florida-Journal of Undergraduate Research, 16 (3)

Urban and suburban wildlife can be difficult to study through traditional wildlife techniques using direct, in situ human involvement. The use of remote sensing technology like trip cameras (or camera traps) can allow researchers to obtain high quality photographs of target species to be used to confirm the presence of species and even indentify individuals of a local population. A study at the University of Florida campus employed eight camera traps at four sampling locations to attempt to identify individuals of the feral cat (Felis catus) population as well as survey local mesopredator diversity. High-resolution photographs were used to select distinguishing characteristics of each cat in order to assign it an identification code and determine if individuals were moving among the sampling sites. Ten individuals were identified out of 118 total photographs with confirmed feral cat appearances. Only one individual appeared at more than one sampling site. The trip cameras captured photo evidence of four other species, all of which appeared at sites alongside cats suggesting some degree of resource competition may exist between these opportunistic predators. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Exploring human-feral cat relations in southern Ontario

Van Patter, L. (2015). Exploring Human-Feral Cat Relations in Southern Ontario (Doctoral dissertation).

Feral cat management is an under-researched human-animal interaction. Feral cats are supported and protected by some, vilified and eradicated by others. Debates about their impacts on native fauna, welfare concerns, and human moral obligations are diverse and complex. This research critically investigates the conceptual, spatial, and ethical dimensions of human-feral cat relations through an empirical case study in southern Ontario, Canada. It explores human placement of cats using semi-structured interviews with community members. It examines morethan-human modes of inhabitation by engaging with feral cats’ lifeworlds firsthand through field observations. It also employs a performative approach to consider ways in which both human and feral cat agencies participate in the co-creation of subjectivities in multispecies interactions. Overall, this research emphasizes the importance of attending to non-human difference, subjectivities, and agency in order to challenge the processes through which non-human animals such as feral cats are made killable.

Monday, 12 October 2015

A review on sociality in cats

Bradshaw, J. W. (2015). Sociality in cats: A comparative review. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research.

The domestic cat is the only member of the Felidae to form social relationships with humans, and also, the only small felid to form intraspecific social groups when free ranging. The latter are matriarchies, and bear only a superficial similarity to those of the lion and cheetah, which evolved separately and in response to very different selection pressures. There is no evidence for intraspecific social behavior in the ancestral species Felis silvestris, and hence, the capacity for group formation almost certainly evolved concurrently with the self-domestication of the cat during the period 10,000 to 5,000 years before present. Social groups of F. catus are characterized by cooperation among related adult females in the raising of kittens from parturition onward and competition between adult males. Unlike more social Carnivora, cats lack ritualized submissive signals, and although “peck-order” hierarchies can be constructed from exchanges of aggressive and defensive behavior, these do not predict reproductive success in females, or priority of access to key resources, and thus do not illuminate the basis of normal cat society. Cohesion in colonies of cats is expressed as, and probably maintained by, allorubbing and allogrooming; transmission of scent signals may also play a largely uninvestigated role. The advantages of group living over the ancestral solitary territorial state have not been quantified adequately but are likely to include defense of permanent food sources and denning sites and protection against predators and possibly infanticide by invading males. These presumably outweigh the disadvantages of communal denning, enhanced transmission of parasites, and diseases. Given the lack of archaeological evidence for cats kept as pets until some 4,000 years before present, intraspecific social behavior was most likely fully evolved before interspecific sociality emerged. Signals directed by cats toward their owners fall into 3 categories: those derived from species-typical actions, such as jumping up, that become signals by association; signals derived from kitten-to-mother communication (kneading, meow); and those derived from intraspecific cohesive signals. Social stress appears widespread among pet cats, stemming from both agonistic relationships within households and territorial disputes with neighborhood cats, but simple solutions seem elusive, most likely because individual cats vary greatly in their reaction to encounters with other cats.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Feral cat home‐range size varies predictably with landscape productivity and population density

Bengsen, A. J., Algar, D., Ballard, G., Buckmaster, T., Comer, S., Fleming, P. J. S., ... & Zewe, F. (2015). Feral cat home‐range size varies predictably with landscape productivity and population density. Journal of Zoology.

An understanding of the factors that drive inter-population variability in home-range size is essential for managing the impacts of invasive species with broad global distributions, such as the feral domestic cat (Felis catus). The assumption that home-range sizes scale negatively with landscape productivity is fundamental to many spatial behaviour models, and inter-site variation in landscape productivity has often been invoked to explain the vast differences in feral cat home-range sizes among different regions. However, the validity of this explanation has not been tested or described. We used regression models to examine the ability of remotely sensed landscape productivity data, average body weight and population density to explain differences in the size of feral cat home ranges estimated across a diverse collection of sites across the globe. As expected for a solitary polygynous carnivore, female cats occupied smaller home ranges in highly productive sites, and range sizes of male cats scaled positively with those of females. However, the relationship between range size and productivity broke down at highly seasonal sites. Home-range size also scaled negatively with population density, but there was no clear relationship with average body weight. The relationships we describe should be useful for predicting home-range sizes and for designing effective feral cat control and monitoring programmes in many situations. More generally, these results confirm the importance of landscape productivity in shaping the spatial distribution of solitary carnivores, but the nature of the relationship is more complicated than is often appreciated.

Corridors of introduced feral cats infringing ecologically sensitive areas in NZ

Recio, M. R., Seddon, P. J., & Moore, A. B. (2015). Niche and movement models identify corridors of introduced feral cats infringing ecologically sensitive areas in New Zealand. Biological Conservation, 192, 48-56.

The mitigation of the impact caused by introduced mammalian predators is a priority for conservation managers. Reducing predator population numbers is the most realistic strategy in mainland areas or large islands, and could be a feasible alternative to pest eradication. However, the success of control campaigns depends not only on removal of resident individuals, but also on managing reinvasions facilitated by connectivity with surrounding source populations. We combined niche analysis and fine-scale movement analyses of feral cats (Felis silvestris catus) to identify least-cost corridors from sources surrounding controlled areas of the ecologically sensitive area of Tasman Valley and Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand. Intensive control of exotic predators has been executed during the last ten years in this area, where they pose a threat to native species such as endangered ground-nesting birds. Species distribution models revealed that cat distribution in the region was limited by its main prey, the European rabbit, and to mid-elevation (~ 1600 m) areas. Using GPS-tracking data and step-selection functions, we found that cats moved in an optimized fashion suggesting a maximum energy gain associated with high rabbit presence, while avoiding landscape obstacles such as rugged terrain. Connectivity between the high probability of cat presence in source and destination locations (in the control area) was facilitated by 1–3 corridors between valleys and multiple paths within valleys. Identification of least-cost paths, rooted in ecological and behavioral mechanisms underlying space use, can identify realistic putative corridors for focused implementation of control measures for introduced species in ecologically sensitive areas.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Understanding public perceptions of risk regarding outdoor pet cats to inform conservation action

Gramza, A., Teel, T., VandeWoude, S., & Crooks, K. (2016). Understanding public perceptions of risk regarding outdoor pet cats to inform conservation action. Conservation Biology, 30 (2): 276–286

Free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) incur and impose risks on ecosystems and represent a complex issue of critical importance to biodiversity conservation and cat and human health globally. Prior social science research on this topic is limited and has emphasized feral cats even though owned cats often comprise a large proportion of the outdoor cat population, particularly in urban areas. To address this gap, we examined public risk perceptions and attitudes toward outdoor pet cats across varying levels of urbanization, including along the wildland-urban interface, in Colorado, USA. An analysis of 1397 completed surveys showed that residents did not view all types of risks uniformly; they viewed risks of cat predation on wildlife and carnivore predation on cats as more likely than risks of disease transmission to and from wildlife. Additionally, risk perceptions were related to attitudes, prior experiences with cats and cat-wildlife interactions, and cat owner behavior. Findings suggest that changes in risk perceptions may result in behavior change, and they offer insight for communication aimed at promoting risk aversive behaviors and cat management strategies that are acceptable to the public and that directly advance the conservation of native species.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Free ranging cats have more heavy metals in their tissues

Rzymski, P., Niedzielski, P., Poniedziałek, B., Rzymski, P., Pacyńska, J., Kozak, L., & Dąbrowski, P. (2015). Free-ranging domestic cats are characterized by increased metal content in reproductive tissues. Reproductive Toxicology, 58, 54-60.

Trace metals may be supportive to mammalian reproduction but also reveal certain toxicities. The present study investigated the content of selected metals (Ca, Cd, Cu, Mn, Mg, Ni, Pb, Zn) in uterine and testicular tissue of free-ranging and household cats and its relation with hair metal status, cats’ age, weight, physical activity, diet and inhabited environment. Free-rangers and cats not fed by humans were characterized by higher concentrations of essential metals in their reproductive tissues as well as increased levels of toxic elements, particularly Cd and Ni. No difference in metal status was found for household individuals fed on different varieties of commercial food. Cats inhabiting urbanized areas were characterized by higher Pb levels in their reproductive system. Feline hair was found to be less, if at all, susceptible to environmental, lifestyle and dietary variables and most importantly, did not reflect a metal burden in reproductive tissues.

Do scavenging dogs still prefer meat?

Bhadra, A., Bhattacharjee, D., Paul, M., Singh, A., Gade, P. R., Shrestha, P., & Bhadra, A. (2015). The meat of the matter: a rule of thumb for scavenging dogs?. Ethology Ecology & Evolution, 1-14.

Animals that scavenge in and around human settlements need to utilise a broad range of resources, and thus generalist scavengers are likely to be better adapted to human-dominated habitats. In India, free-ranging dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) live in close proximity with humans in diverse habitats, from forest fringes to metropolises, and are heavily dependent on humans for their food. It has been argued that the ability to digest carbohydrates was one of the driving forces for dog domestication. Though dogs are better adapted to digest carbohydrates than other canids, pet dogs show a clear preference for animal proteins. Our observations on streets of urban and semi-urban localities show that the free-ranging dogs are scavengers which primarily receive carbohydrate-rich food from humans. Their source for animal protein is typically garbage bins and leftovers, and such resources are rare. Using a series of field-based experiments, we test if the free-ranging dogs have adapted to a generalist scavenging lifestyle by losing preference for animal protein. Our experiments show that the free-ranging dogs, which are descendants of the decidedly carnivorous gray wolf (Canis lupus lupus), have retained a clear preference for meat, which is manifested by their choice of anything that smells of meat, irrespective of the actual nutrient content. The plasticity in their diet probably fosters efficient scavenging in a competitive environment, while a rule of thumb for preferentially acquiring specific nutrients enables them to sequester proteins from the carbohydrate-dominated environment.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Responses of a vulnerable native rodent to its long term alien predators

Carthey, A. J., & Banks, P. B. (2015). Naiveté is not forever: responses of a vulnerable native rodent to its long term alien predators. Oikos.

Alien predators have wreaked havoc on isolated endemic and island fauna worldwide, a phenomenon generally attributed to prey naiveté, or a failure to display effective antipredator behaviour due to a lack of experience. While the failure to recognise and/or respond to a novel predator has devastating impacts in the short term after predators are introduced, few studies have asked whether medium to long term experience with alien predators enables native species to overcome their naiveté. In Australia, introduced dogs Canis lupus familiaris, foxes Vulpes vulpes and cats Felis catus have caused rapid extinctions and declines in small–medium sized native mammals since they were introduced ∼150 years ago. However, native wildlife have had ∼4000 years experience with another dog – the dingo Canis lupus dingo. Native bush rats Rattus fuscipes remain common despite predation from these predators. We predicted that prior experience with dingoes would mean that bush rats recognise and respond to dogs, but suspect that hundreds of years experience may not be enough for effective responses to cats and foxes. To test these predictions, we combined the giving-up density (GUD) with analysis of remote camera footage to measure bush rat foraging and behavioural responses to body odour from dogs, foxes, cats and native spotted-tail quolls Dasyurus maculatus. Bush rats responded strongly to dogs with increased GUDs, increased vigilance and decreased foraging. However, mixed responses to foxes and cats suggest that at least some individuals remain naïve towards these predators. Naiveté is not necessarily forever: alien predators devastate many native prey species, but others may learn or adapt to the new threat.
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