Multistate matrix population model to assess the contributions and impacts on population abundance of domestic cats in urban areas including owned cats, unowned cats, and cats in shelters

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Date: Feb. 28, 2018
From: PLoS ONE(Vol. 13, Issue 2)
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Document Type: Report
Length: 13,611 words
Lexile Measure: 1690L

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Author(s): D. T. Tyler Flockhart 1,2,*, Jason B. Coe 1


Concerns over the population density of free-roaming domestic cats ( Felis catus ) in urban areas is a global issue centered on the issues of cat welfare [1-3], impacts on wildlife populations [4-6], and risks to public health [1,7,8]. Central to understanding the impacts of cats, and a first step in developing humane and cost-effective management strategies, is quantifying population abundance and identifying the factors that drive population dynamics. To address homelessness, over-taxed animal shelters, environmental impacts, public health risks, and unnecessary euthanasia we must consider the collective subpopulations of owned cats, unowned free-roaming cats, and cats in the shelter system simultaneously because each subpopulation contributes differently to the population dynamics and abundance of cats (e.g. differences in neuter rates, survival, or fecundity). In addition, cats move among subpopulations through human interventions (e.g. adoption, abandonment). Bringing together stakeholders to identify and prioritize common societal goals to address cat population densities depends on robust population abundance estimates and understanding how interventions will reverberate across the population network.

National population estimates suggest about 100 million owned cats (indoor and indoor/outdoor; [1,3,6]) and between 10 and 120 million unowned (free-ranging and feral; [1,5,6]) live in the United States and Canada. In urban areas, the debate around cat management centers on the use and effectiveness of lethal and non-lethal control measures to address concerns over the free-roaming cat population density [1,9,10]. While the objectives of such control measures are rarely stated explicitly, owing to the variety of stakeholder views on the role, rights, and impact of cats, generally public expectations relate to issues of ethical population control, the cost and effectiveness of implementing these controls, and the likelihood of achieving a specified management objective [11,12].

A number of population models for cats have been developed to understand population dynamics and to quantify how interventions are likely to reduce population abundance. To date, most population modeling efforts have focused on feral cats [13,14], considered a limited set of interventions focused on lethal culls or sterilization [14-20], and largely ignored the transition of cats between subpopulations except for low rates of abandonment [14,19,20]. While these models are useful, it is important to recognize that they have focused on a limited portion of the total cat population and have considered the characteristics of cat population sizes specific to very small urban areas [21]. Therefore, previous models are not necessarily suitable for understanding the dynamics of high population densities such as those found in large urban areas [22,23]. To address these limitations, a population model that accurately predicts population abundance, can identify the factors that are driving population dynamics of cats and requires easily available inputs (e.g. from human census data) for any urban area is necessary. Such a population model could provide information to decision-makers that must choose among several competing and emotionally charged interventions that target demographic vital rates in different subpopulations, to influence cat populations [10,24,25].

Our objectives were to (i) develop a multistate matrix...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A529306496