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Domestic cats and dogs create a landscape of fear for pest rodents around rural homesteads

Using domestic predators such as cats to control rodent pest problems around farms and homesteads is common across the world. However, practical scientific evidence on the impact of such biological control in agricultural settings is often lacking. We tested whether the presence of domestic cats and/or dogs in rural homesteads would affect the foraging behaviour of pest rodents. We estimated giving up densities (GUDs) from established feeding patches and estimated relative rodent activity using tracking tiles at 40 homesteads across four agricultural communities. We found that the presence of cats and dogs at the same homestead significantly reduced activity and increased GUDs (i.e. increased perception of foraging cost) of pest rodent species. However, if only cats or dogs alone were present at the homestead there was no observed difference in rodent foraging activity in comparison to homesteads with no cats or dogs. Our results suggest that pest rodent activity can be discouraged through the presence of domestic predators. When different types of predator are present together they likely create a heightened landscape of fear for foraging rodents.

Categories: Rodent control
Geography: Swaziland
Reference: Mahlaba, TAM., Monadjem, A., McCleery, R. & Belmain, S.R. 2017. Domestic cats and dogs create a landscape of fear for pest rodents around rural homesteads. PLoS ONE. 12(2): e0171593.