Feral cats in Australia have switched from eating rabbits to marsupials

A baby Ring Tail Possum. Mark Nolan/Getty Images

Feral cats eat hundreds species of birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs, according to research from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia.

The cats kill or consume 400 species in Australia compared with just 179 species in a similar study which recorded feral cat diets from 40 islands around the world.

The list includes 157 reptiles, 123 birds, 58 marsupials, 27 rodents, 21 frogs and nine exotic mammals.

This project is the first of its kind to collect data from around Australia and gathered data from 49 research projects examining feral cat diet.

The research showed rodents were eaten most frequently by cats in the tropical north, while reptiles were eaten more in the central deserts.

Medium-sized mammals such as possums and bandicoots were eaten a lot in the south-east of Australia. Seabirds formed a large part of the diet of cats on islands.

Tim Doherty of the ECU School of Natural Sciences says the research sheds light on how feral cats’ diets changed across different habitat types and with differing prey availability.

“Our most significant finding was a pattern of prey-switching from rabbits to small native mammals,” he said.

“This is important because control programs for rabbits could inadvertently lead to feral cats killing more native mammals instead. This means that land managers should use a multi-species approach for pest animal control.”

Feral cats have contributed to the extinction of more than 16 mammal species in Australia and represent an enormous challenge for the conservation of endangered species.

The research is published in the Journal of Biogeography.

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