Feral cat diet and impact on sooty terns at Juan de Nova Island, Mozambique Channel


Darren R. Peck. Current address: CSIRO Entomology, GPO Box 1700, Canberra, ACT, Australia 2601. Tel: (+61) 02 6246 4251; Fax: (+61) 02 6246 4264
Email: darren.peck@csiro.au


Feral cat Felis catus predation on seabirds has been well documented; however, details regarding shifts in feral cat diet in relation to seabird availability, seabird predation rate and impact on seabird population dynamics are scarce. Here, we present data documenting a seasonal shift in feral cat diet at Juan de Nova Island, Mozambique Channel. We also quantify sooty tern Sterna fuscata predation by feral cats and examine the impact on sooty terns over both the short term (by removing individual cats from sub-colonies) and over the longer term by highlighting their influence on population growth rate (λ) using a deterministic matrix model. Cat diet shifted dramatically from insects, rats and mice outside the tern breeding season to primarily terns when terns were breeding. The predation rate of sooty terns at Juan de Nova was estimated at 5.94 terns cat−1 day−1, with a proportion of these (22%) being killed without being consumed (‘surplus kills’). When only one cat was removed from each sub-colony, tern predation declined tenfold in the short term. From our matrix model, the annual growth rate for sooty terns was 1.01 in the absence of cat predation. It remained above one until a predation impact equivalent to approximately three times the estimated cat density (12.04 per km2) was incorporated. Our results demonstrate that cats preferentially predate and have an impact on breeding sooty terns at Juan de Nova, and that an increase in cat density could lead to negative effects on population growth, despite the large breeding tern population.