A change of diet from rodents to rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Is the wildcat (Felis silvestris) a specialist predator?

Authors

  • Aurelio F. Malo,

    1. Departmento Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (C.S.I.C.), C/José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain
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  • Jorge Lozano,

    1. Escuela Superior de Ciencias Experimentales y Tecnología. Department. Matemáticas, Física Aplicada y Ciencias de la Naturaleza. Área de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, C/Tulipán s/n, E-28933 Móstoles, Madrid, Spain
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  • Daniel L. Huertas,

    1. Grupo de Ecología Aplicada, C/Álvarez Quintero, 2-41720, Los Palacios, Sevilla, Spain
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  • Emilio Virgós

    Corresponding author
    1. Escuela Superior de Ciencias Experimentales y Tecnología. Department. Matemáticas, Física Aplicada y Ciencias de la Naturaleza. Área de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, C/Tulipán s/n, E-28933 Móstoles, Madrid, Spain
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All correspondence to: E. Virgós. E-mail: evirgos@escet.urjc.es

Abstract

The results of a study testing the hypothesis that wildcats Felis silvestris are rodent-specialist predators is reported. The diet of wildcats was studied in different habitats from central Spain where rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus were either present or absent in order to explore whether the wildcat is a facultative or a rodent specialist. We predicted that if the wildcat was a rodent specialist there would be no differences in rodent composition in scats between areas with or without another profitable prey such as rabbits. To test this hypothesis, 239 scats were collected in two contrasting habitat types: Mediterranean vegetation areas, where rabbits were either present or absent, and Pyrenean oak forests, where there were no rabbits. All areas and habitat types were sampled in different seasons. The frequency of occurrence and biomass of different prey items and diet diversity were compared between habitats and areas with the presence/absence of rabbits. Wildcats consumed significantly fewer rodents in areas with rabbits than in areas where rabbits were absent, and diet diversity showed important seasonal variations. Values for diet diversity were lower in areas where rabbits were present. Thus it can be stated that wildcats do not specialize in rodents, and we suggest a facultative specialization on different prey items (rabbits or rodents) according to prey availability.

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