Free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) on public lands: estimating density, activity, and diet in the Florida Keys.
Feral and free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) can have strong negative effects on small mammals and birds, particularly in island ecosystems. We deployed camera traps to study free-ranging cats in national wildlife refuges and state parks on Big Pine Key and Key Largo in the Florida Keys, USA, and used spatial capture-recapture models to estimate cat abundance, movement, and activities. We also used stable isotope analyses to examine the diet of cats captured on public lands. Top population models separated cats based on differences in movement and detection with three and two latent groups on Big Pine Key and Key Largo, respectively. We hypothesize that these latent groups represent feral, semi-feral, and indoor/outdoor house cats based on the estimated movement parameters of each group. Estimated cat densities and activity varied between the two islands, with relatively high densities (∼4 cats/km2) exhibiting crepuscular diel patterns on Big Pine Key and lower densities (∼1 cat/km2) exhibiting nocturnal diel patterns on Key Largo. These differences are most likely related to the higher proportion of house cats on Big Pine relative to Key Largo. Carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios from hair samples of free-ranging cats (n=43) provided estimates of the proportion of wild and anthropogenic foods in cat diets. At the population level, cats on both islands consumed mostly anthropogenic foods (>80% of the diet), but eight individuals were effective predators of wildlife (>50% of the diet). We provide evidence that cat groups within a population move different distances, exhibit different activity patterns, and that individuals consume wildlife at different rates, which all have implications for managing this invasive predator.