[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Urban domestic cat (Felis catus) populations can attain exceedingly high densities and are not limited by natural prey availability. This has generated concerns that they may negatively affect prey populations, leading to calls for management. We enlisted cat-owners to record prey returned home to estimate patterns of predation by free-roaming pets in different localities within the town of Reading, UK and questionnaire surveys were used to quantify attitudes to different possible management strategies. Prey return rates were highly variable: only 20% of cats returned ≥4 dead prey annually. Consequently, approximately 65% of owners received no prey in a given season, but this declined to 22% after eight seasons. The estimated mean predation rate was 18.3 prey cat(-1) year(-1) but this varied markedly both spatially and temporally: per capita predation rates declined with increasing cat density. Comparisons with estimates of the density of six common bird prey species indicated that cats killed numbers equivalent to adult density on c. 39% of occasions. Population modeling studies suggest that such predation rates could significantly reduce the size of local bird populations for common urban species. Conversely, most urban residents did not consider cat predation to be a significant problem. Collar-mounted anti-predation devices were the only management action acceptable to the majority of urban residents (65%), but were less acceptable to cat-owners because of perceived risks to their pets; only 24% of cats were fitted with such devices. Overall, cat predation did appear to be of sufficient magnitude to affect some prey populations, although further investigation of some key aspects of cat predation is warranted. Management of the predation behavior of urban cat populations in the UK is likely to be challenging and achieving this would require considerable engagement with cat owners.
PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(11):e49369. · 3.73 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We aimed to compare body condition, urine profiles, and survival times between red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) that were infected with sarcoptic mange and others that were uninfected. First we compared the relative body mass, chest girth, fat reserves, and urinary urea nitrogen:creatinine (UN:C) ratios of red foxes in three infection classes: uninfected, class I (no hyperkeratotic mange), and class II (hyperkeratotic mange present). Infected foxes had lower relative body mass and lower fat reserves than uninfected foxes. Both fat reserves and urinary UN:C data suggested that class II infection was more severe than class I infection. Urinary UN:C in class II foxes was significantly higher than in uninfected and class I foxes, indicating accelerated muscle catabolism in class II foxes. Elevated urinary UN:C has never been recorded in wild canids, indicating that these animals had been subjected to a period of prolonged starvation or chronic undernourishment. We also estimated the survival time of foxes once infected with mange from capturemarkrecapture data. Twenty-five foxes were caught at an early stage of infection and had a known date of death. Although some were treated once with ivermectin they did not recover, and their survival time was no longer than that of untreated infected foxes. Untreated infected adults survived for up to 271 days after capture, which is longer than previously suggested. Overall, the survival time of infected foxes was roughly one-fifth of that of uninfected foxes (matched by age and sex).
Canadian Journal of Zoology 02/2011; 80(1):154-161. · 1.50 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Movements away from the natal or home territory are important to many ecological processes, including gene flow, population regulation, and disease epidemiology, yet quantitative data on these behaviors are lacking. Red foxes exhibit 2 periods of extraterritorial movements: when an individual disperses and when males search neighboring territories for extrapair copulations during the breeding season. Using radiotracking data collected at 5-min interfix intervals, we compared movement parameters, including distance moved, speed of movement, and turning angles, of dispersal and reproductive movements to those made during normal territorial movements; the instantaneous separation distances of dispersing and extraterritorial movements to the movements of resident adults; and the frequency of locations of 95%, 60%, and 30% harmonic mean isopleths of adult fox home territories to randomly generated fox movements. Foxes making reproductive movements traveled farther than when undertaking other types of movement, and dispersal movements were straighter. Reproductive and dispersal movements were faster than territorial movements and also differed in intensity of search and thoroughness. Foxes making dispersal movements avoided direct contact with territorial adults and moved through peripheral areas of territories. The converse was true for reproductive movements. Although similar in some basic characteristics, dispersal and reproductive movements are fundamentally different both behaviorally and spatially and are likely to have different ultimate purposes and contrasting effects on spatial processes such as disease transmission.
Journal of Mammalogy 01/2011; 92(1):190-199. · 2.31 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Capsule Different urban breeding bird communities are associated with different habitat types, but, although community species diversity varies significantly, total bird density does not.Aims To investigate the association between breeding bird communities and habitats within Bristol, UK and how these communities vary in terms of species diversity and total bird abundance.Methods Breeding density data for 70 species in the metropolitan area of Bristol, UK were subjected to de‐trended correspondence analysis to identify the number of different communities present and their indicator species. These data were then used to identify patterns of habitat association with each community and differences in species richness and total bird density.Results Three communities were identified: a rural community associated with woodland, managed grassland and inland water; a suburban community associated with buildings and residential gardens; and an intermediate community that shared some of these habitat characteristics. Species richness, but not total bird abundance, was lowest in the suburban community.Conclusion The diversity of species in urban areas appears to be most dependent upon the availability of patches of natural and semi‐natural habitats. Residential gardens support fewer species, but those species that are present may be found at high densities.
Bird Study 01/2010; 57(2):183-196. · 1.02 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Studies on exposure of non-targets to anticoagulant rodenticides have largely focussed on predatory birds and mammals; insectivores have rarely been studied. We investigated the exposure of 120 European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) from throughout Britain to first- and second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (FGARs and SGARs) using high performance liquid chromatography coupled with fluorescence detection (HPLC) and liquid-chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS). The proportion of hedgehogs with liver SGAR concentrations detected by HPLC was 3–13% per compound, 23% overall. LCMS identified much higher prevalence for difenacoum and bromadiolone, mainly because of greater ability to detect low-level contamination. The overall proportion of hedgehogs with LCMS-detected residues was 57.5% (SGARs alone) and 66.7% (FGARs and SGARs combined); 27 (22.5%) hedgehogs contained >1 rodenticide. Exposure of insectivores and predators to anticoagulant rodenticides appears to be similar. The greater sensitivity of LCMS suggests that hitherto exposure of non-targets is likely to have been under-estimated using HPLC techniques.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Urban areas have both positive and negative influences on wildlife. For terrestrial mammals, one of the principal problems is the risk associated with moving through the environment while foraging. We examined nocturnal patterns of movement of urban-dwelling hedgehogs in relation to (1) the risks posed by predators and motor vehicles and (2) nightly weather patterns. Hedgehogs preferentially utilized the gardens of semidetached and terraced houses. However, females, but not males, avoided the larger back gardens of detached houses, which contain more of the habitat features selected by badgers. This difference in the avoidance of predation risk is probably associated with sex differences in breeding behaviour. Differences in nightly movement patterns were consistent with strategies associated with mating behaviour and the accumulation of fat reserves for hibernation. Hedgehogs also differed in behaviour associated with the risks posed by humans; they avoided actively foraging near roads and road verges, but did not avoid crossing roads per se. They were, however, significantly more active after midnight when there was a marked reduction in vehicle and foot traffic. In particular, responses to increased temperature, which is associated with increased abundance of invertebrate prey, were only observed after midnight. This variation in the timing of bouts of activity would reduce the risks associated with human activities. There were also profound differences in both area ranged and activity between years which warrant further investigation.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Understanding the causal mechanisms promoting group formation in carnivores has been widely investigated, particularly how fitness components affect group formation. Population density may affect the relative benefits of natal philopatry versus dispersal. Density effects on individual behavioral strategies have previously been studied through comparisons of different populations, where differences could be confounded by between-site effects. We used a single population of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in the city of Bristol, UK, that underwent a natural perturbation in density to compare key changes in 1) group structure, 2) within-group relatedness, 3) mating system, 4) dispersal, and 5) dominance attainment. At high densities (19.6--27.6 adults km-super- - 2), group sex ratios were equal and included related and unrelated individuals. At low densities (4.0--5.5 adults km-super- - 2), groups became female biased and were structured around philopatric females. However, levels of within-group relatedness were unchanged. The genetic mating patterns changed with no instances of multiple-paternity litters and a decline in the frequency of extrapair litters of cubs from ≤77% to ≤38%. However, the number of genetically monogynous groups did not differ between periods. Dispersal was male biased at both high and low densities. At high density, most dominant males in the study groups appeared to have gained dominance after dispersing, but natal philopatry was an equally successful strategy at low density; conversely, most dominant females were philopatric individuals at both high and low densities. These results illustrate how density may alter behavioral strategies such as mating patterns and how this, in turn, alters group structure in a single population. Copyright 2009, Oxford University Press.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The period following the withdrawal of parental care has been highlighted as a key developmental period for juveniles. One reason for this is that juveniles cannot forage as competently as adults, potentially placing them at greater risk from environmentally-induced changes in food availability. However, no study has examined this topic. Using a long-term dataset on red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), we examined (i) dietary changes that occurred in the one-month period following the attainment of nutritional independence, (ii) diet composition in relation to climatic variation, and (iii) the effect of climatic variation on subsequent full-grown mass. Diet at nutritional independence contained increased quantities of easy-to-catch food items (earthworms and insects) when compared with pre-independence. Interannual variation in the volume of rainfall at nutritional independence was positively correlated to the proportion of earthworms in cub diet. Pre-independence cub mass and rainfall immediately following nutritional independence explained a significant proportion of variance in full-grown mass, with environmental variation affecting full-grown mass of the entire cohorts. Thus, weather-mediated availability of easy-to-catch food items at a key developmental stage has lifelong implications for the development of juvenile foxes by affecting full-grown mass, which in turn appears to be an important component of individual reproductive potential.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 10/2008; 275(1649):2411-8. · 5.68 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Even though they are fed daily by their owners, free-ranging pet cats Felis catus may kill wild birds and, given their high densities (typically > 200 cats/km2), it has been postulated that cat predation could be a significant negative factor affecting the dynamics of urban bird populations. In this study, we: (1) used questionnaire surveys in 10 sites within the city of Bristol, UK, to estimate cat density; (2) estimated the number of birds killed annually in five sites by asking cat owners to record prey animals returned home; and then (3) compared the number of birds killed with breeding density and productivity to estimate the potential impact of cat predation. In addition, we (4) compared the condition of those birds killed by cats versus those killed in collisions, e.g. window strikes. Mean (± sd) cat density was 348 ± 86 cats/km2 (n = 10 sites); considering the eight species most commonly taken by cats, the mean ratios of adult birds/cats and juvenile birds/cats across the five sites were 1.17 ± 0.23 and 3.07 ± 0.74, respectively. Approximately 60% of the cats studied for up to 1 year at each site never returned any prey home; despite this, the estimated number of birds killed was large relative to their breeding density and productivity in many sites. Across species, cat-killed birds were in significantly poorer condition than those killed following collisions; this is consistent with the notion that cat predation represents a compensatory rather than additive form of mortality. Interpretation of these results is, however, complicated by patterns of body mass regulation in passerines. The predation rates estimated in this study would suggest that cats were likely to have been a major cause of mortality for some species of birds. The effect of cat predation in urban landscapes therefore warrants further investigation. The potential limitations of the current study are discussed, along with suggestions for resolving them.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The costs of dispersal are an important factor promoting natal philopatry, thereby encouraging the formation of social groups.
The red fox, Vulpes vulpes, exhibits a highly flexible social system and one that is thought to represent a possible stage in the evolution of more
complex patterns of group-living. Although the potential benefits accruing to philopatric offspring have previously been studied
in this species, the potential costs of dispersal have received less attention. We contrasted survival rates, nutritional
status, injuries and reproductive output of dispersing and non-dispersing male and female foxes in an urban population to
assess the relative costs of dispersal versus natal philopatry. Mortality rates were not significantly higher for dispersing
foxes, either in the short- or long-term. There was no evidence of increased nutritional stress in dispersing individuals.
Dispersing individuals did, however, exhibit greater levels of wounding, although this did not appear to affect survival.
Dispersing females were more likely to miss a breeding opportunity early in their reproductive lifespan. In contrast, both
dispersing and non-dispersing males were unlikely to breed in their first year. We conclude that the major fitness component
in females affected by dispersing is age at first reproduction.
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 01/2008; 62(8):1289-1298. · 2.75 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Traffic collisions can be a major source of mortality in wild populations, and animals may be expected to exhibit behavioral mechanisms that reduce the risk associated with crossing roads. Animals living in urban areas in particular have to negotiate very dense road networks, often with high levels of traffic flow. We examined traffic-related mortality of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in the city of Bristol, UK, and the extent to which roads affected fox activity by comparing real and randomly generated patterns of movement. There were significant seasonal differences in the number of traffic-related fox deaths for different age and sex classes; peaks were associated with periods when individuals were likely to be moving through unfamiliar terrain and would have had to cross major roads. Mortality rates per unit road length increased with road magnitude. The number of roads crossed by foxes and the rate at which roads were crossed per hour of activity increased after midnight when traffic flow was lower. Adults and juveniles crossed 17% and 30% fewer roads, respectively, than expected from randomly generated movement. This highly mobile species appeared to reduce the mortality risk of minor category roads by changing its activity patterns, but it remained vulnerable to the effects of larger roads with higher traffic flows during periods associated with extraterritorial movements. Copyright 2007, Oxford University Press.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Translocation is frequently used to return rehabilitated animals to the wild, and is an important tool for the population management of endangered species. Whilst experimental field manipulations are important in determining optimal rehabilitation and translocation strategies, they are rarely implemented in practice. We used an experimental approach to examine the effects of translocation on post-release survival and behaviour, and the impact of introductions on the recipient wild population, using the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), the most common mammal admitted to British wildlife hospitals. The post-release survival and behaviour of five groups were compared: three different translocation treatments, one wild population at the release sites and one control wild population away from the release sites. Individuals that were held in captivity prior to translocation had a better survival rate on release than individuals that were translocated with a minimum time spent in captivity. We suggest that temporary captivity improves chances of survival by allowing the build up of fat reserves and reducing manipulation stress suffered on release. No evidence was found for intra-specific competition between introduced individuals and the recipient wild hedgehog population.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Economic analysis is a useful tool to aid decisions on what to do about wildlife impacts, such as those of vertebrate predators on livestock farmers. The case-study of lamb predation by foxes in Britain is used to develop a theoretical economic model, with the aim of determining a financially optimal solution to minimise the total costs of livestock predation at the farm-level. Total costs include output losses and expenditure on preventive and control measures, in this case indoor housing and lethal fox control. The model is tested empirically with data from a questionnaire survey of sheep farmers and field data on fox population densities in Britain. Regression analyses are used to determine the relationships between lamb losses and expenditure on indoor housing, fox population density and other non-management characteristics. The effect of fox abundance on the cost of fox control is also assessed. Marginal analysis is used to determine the total cost-minimising solution from the farmer's point-of-view, in terms of how many ewes should be housed indoors and for how long, as well as how many foxes should be killed in addition to any lethal control already carried out. Optimal solutions vary according to farm characteristics, including flock size and the regional location of farms. In all cases, to minimise the costs of predation, as many ewes as possible should be housed. However, it is not worthwhile housing them for more than a day after lambing. Efficient fox predation management does not necessarily mean that lamb losses should be reduced to zero, and additional fox control is not worthwhile on the majority of farms. The analysis provides a framework for future evaluations of wildlife impacts and cost-effective management of these problems.
Journal of Environmental Management 03/2004; 70(2):129-43. · 3.06 Impact Factor