Feral Cats in Australia Descended from Cats Brought by European Settlers in 1800’s; Australia’s Feral Cats Currently Threaten Over 100 Native Species; New Study Has Implications for Management of Invasive Species

Researchers have found that feral cats in Australia are most likely descended from cats brought to the continent by European settlers. Feral cats found on the islands surrounding Australia may represent founding populations from Europe, introduced in the 19th century, according to research published online today (December 4, 2015) in open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. The article is titled "A Voyage to Terra Australis: Human-Mediated Dispersal of Cats." Identifying the timing of the founding of these cat populations increases our knowledge of the effects ths invasive species had when introduced to Australia. Feral cats (i.e., cats that are free-living and independent of humans, but that are descended from cats that did rely on humans) have established invasive populations over large geographic areas of Australia. There has been much debate about how these cats arrived in Australia. Cats were often transported on sailing vessels as a means of controlling rodents or as pets, initially on board and then in new settlements. One theory suggests that cats arrived in Australia with European explorers in the late 18th century. Another hypothesis is that cats accompanied Malaysian trepangers (Malaysian fishers of sea cucumbers) northern Australia in approximately 1650. Researchers from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) and the University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany analyzed mitochondrial DNA and microsatellites (short repeating sequences of DNA) from 266 Australian feral cats to explore their evolutionary history and dispersal patterns. Samples were analyzed from six mainland and seven island locations. The analysis found that the most probable primary source of feral cats in Australia is from cats arriving from Europe in the 19th century.
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