Free-ranging domestic cats may be cat-astrophic for wild species

Our pointy-eared overlords are cat-astrophic for the environment, according to Aussie and international researchers who say free-ranging domestic cats eat more than 2,000 other animal species. The team compiled a database of scientific records of the animal species eaten by free-ranging domestic cats (either owned or unowned) with access to the outdoors and found records of 2,083 distinct species including 981 bird, 463 reptile, 431 mammal, 119 insect, 57 amphibian species, as well as 33 species from across other groups of animals. At least 347 of these species are of conservation concern, including critically endangered species and species that are now believed to be extinct in the wild. The true impact of cats is not yet known, according to the team, who say these numbers are conservative and will continue to grow with more studies. 

Journal/conference: Nature Communications

Link to research (DOI): 10.1038/s41467-023-42766-6

Organisation/s: The University of Sydney, Charles Darwin University

Funder: No information provided.

Media release

From: Springer Nature

Conservation: Free-ranging domestic cats may be cat-astrophic for wild species *IMAGE* 

Free-ranging domestic cats around the world are found to eat more than 2,000 other animal species such as birds, mammals, insects, and reptiles — including 350 species of conservation concern — reports a Nature Communications paper. The findings improve our understanding of the impact these cats have on ecological systems and may inform the development of management solutions.

Since their domestication over 9,000 years ago, house cats (either owned or unowned) have spread around the globe and are now distributed across all continents, except Antarctica. They are known to be generalist predators with considerable ecological impacts, but the extent of their dietary range has not previously been quantified at a global scale.

Christopher Lepczyk and colleagues compiled a database of scientific records of the animal species consumed by free-ranging domestic cats, which are either owned or unowned domestic cats with access to the outdoors. They found records of 2,083 distinct species consumed, including 981 bird, 463 reptile, 431 mammal, 119 insect, 57 amphibian species, as well as 33 species from across other groups of animals. At least 347 of these species are of conservation concern, including critically endangered species and species that are now believed to be extinct in the wild. For example, western quoll (near threatened), green sea turtle (endangered), Newell’s shearwater (critically endangered), and Stephens Island Rockwren (extinct).

The authors note that the true number of species consumed by free-ranging domestic cats is not yet known, and suggest that their estimates of total consumed species are conservative and will continue to grow as more studies are conducted. However, they also note that not all the species consumed are killed as prey and, in particular, some of the larger species consumed may instead by scavenged by the cats.

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Springer Nature is committed to boosting the visibility of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and relevant information and evidence published in our journals and books. The research described in this press release pertains to SDG 15 (Life on Land). More information can be found here

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