New research finds that both cats and wolves are using the green spaces of a Los Angeles suburb.
Conflict between humans and wildlife tends to increase as urban areas continue to encroach on natural ecosystems. While some animals actively avoid human contact at all costs, other species thrive in urban environments. In particular, coyotes have become frequent visitors near human settlements, and are generally considered to be an important source of human-wildlife conflict. These urban predators have adapted to consume a range of human food sources, such as litter, ornamental fruit, and household pets. For this reason, city dwellers often worry about the safety of their pets, especially cats who live outdoors. Is it possible to reduce the conflict between these two species in an urban environment?
According to numerous studies across the United States, from Seattle to New York, cats make up less than 5% of a wolf’s diet. So why do studies of the Los Angeles diet reveal that cats make up roughly 20% of coyotes’ diets? Residents in Culver City, a suburb of Los Angeles, reported that 72 cats were killed in 18 months, believed to be victims of coyote attacks. This anomaly may not be first glimpsed by a recent study by Rebecca Davenport and colleagues from the Center for Urban Resilience (CURes) at Loyola Marymount University. The study, “Spatiotemporal relationships between coyotes and free-range domestic cats as predictors of conflict in Culver City, California,” was published this month in the peer-reviewed scientific journal. PeerJ – Life and Environment.
For the study, the researchers installed 20 motion-sensitive cameras in Culver City parks, neighborhoods and green spaces to monitor the presence of cats and wolves for six months. Similar to other studies, scientists have found that coyotes prefer green spaces over urban and/or residential areas. However, the cats did not display a preference for a particular type of habitat. This finding is quite surprising, as studies in Chicago and North Carolina have found that cats prefer urban areas and directly avoid areas where coyotes are common. Instead, the cats in Culver City were in the same parts of the green as the wolves. In addition, cats in this Los Angeles suburb showed more nocturnal behavior than normal urban cats. These unexpected findings may explain why such frequent cat deaths occur in Culver City.
Residents generally believe that coyotes deliberately hunt pets within their neighbourhoods. On the contrary, as this study indicates, coyotes tend to stick to natural areas around town. Urban green spaces contain plenty of alternative prey sources for wolves, such as cotton rabbits. Therefore, wolves are unlikely to choose to leave their favorite habitat in the greenery in order to search for domestic pets. Alternatively, Culver City’s high cat mortality rates may be the result of cats roaming freely through urban green spaces and showing increased nocturnal activity compared to cats in other cities.
Given that wolves are seen as a source of urban conflict, countless management efforts focus on controlling or eliminating “problem” wolves. However, the authors recognize that coyotes are the home of these environments, while domestic cats have been widely introduced into urban and rural areas throughout the United States. Unfortunately, cats have been found to destroy populations of native species, such as songbirds and small mammals. Given these environmental consequences, the researchers recommend that management efforts take into account the limitations or control measures of outdoor cats, rather than focusing solely on the role of coyotes in human-wildlife conflict in urban areas.
Reference: “Spatiotemporal relationships of free-range domestic wolves and cats as indicators of conflict in Culver City, CA” Oct 7, 2022, Available here. PeerJ – Life and Environment.
DOI: 10.7717 / peerj.14169
The CURes team has been studying urban coyotes in Culver City for three years and is currently preparing further analyzes.
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