Feral cat abundance, density and activity in tropical island rainforests.
Context. Introduced predators, especially cats, are a major cause of extinction globally. Accordingly, an extensive body of literature has focussed on the ecology and management of feral cats in continental and island systems alike. However, geographic and climatic gaps remain, with few studies focusing on rainforests or tropical islands of the south-western Pacific.Aims. We aimed to estimate cat densities and elucidate activity patterns of cats and sympatric birds and mammals in tropical island rainforests. We hypothesised that cat activity would be most influenced by the activity of introduced rodents and ground-dwelling birds that are predominant prey on islands.Methods. We used camera traps to detect feral cats, pigs, rodents and birds on four tropical islands in the south-western Pacific. We used spatial capture-recapture models to estimate the abundance and density of feral cats. Relative abundance indices, and temporal overlaps in activity were calculated for feral cats, pigs, rodents, and birds. We used a generalised linear model to test for the influence of pig, rodent, and bird abundance on feral cat abundance.Key results. The species most commonly detected by our camera traps was feral cat, with estimated densities between 0.31 and 2.65 individuals km-2. Pigs and introduced rodents were the second- and third-most commonly detected fauna respectively. Cat activity was bimodal, with peaks in the hours before dawn and after dusk. Cat abundance varied with site and the abundance of rodents.Conclusions. Feral cats are abundant in the tropical rainforests of our study islands, where one bird and two mammal species are now presumed extinct. Introduced rodents possibly amplify the abundance and impacts of feral cats at our sites. Peak cat activity following dusk did not clearly overlap with other species detected by our camera traps. We postulate cats may be partly focussed on hunting frogs during this period.Implications. Cats are likely to be a major threat to the highly endemic fauna of our study region. Management of feral cats will benefit from further consideration of introduced prey such as rodents, and their role in hyperpredation. Island archipelagos offer suitable opportunities to experimentally test predator-prey dynamics involving feral cats.