Ecological Flexibility of the Top Predator in an Island Ecosystem - Food Habit of the Iriomote Cat

  • Watanabe S
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Abstract

The responses of predators to changes in prey availability, i.e. density and distribution of prey in an environment, are of great interest, especially when they involve both temporal and spatial variations (Lodé, 2000). Variation of prey availability leads to various predator responses (Holling, 1959). For instance, predators specialized in catching particular prey often produce numerical responses to prey availability so that density of the predators mutually fluctuates with the prey density (Krebs & Myers, 1974; Hansson & Henttonen, 1985, 1988). In contrast, non-specialized predators often produce functional responses to prey availability, allowing these predators to switch prey types in relation to availability of alternative resources (Krebs, 1996). The family Felidae is known as the most successfully evolved and developed predators specialized in feeding on mammalian prey (Kleiman & Eisenberg, 1973; Kruuk, 1982). Hence, they often show numerical response to density of a particular prey (e.g., Andersson & Erlinge, 1977; Krebs & Myers, 1974). Members of the Felidae, being found at the top of the trophic hierarchy in an ecosystem, usually require extremely large habitat ranges. Thus, most cat species are found only on continents or large islands. The leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis, the most widespread species of East Asian cat, is an exception to this rule, occurring on several small islands as well as larger islands and the Asian continent (Watanabe, 2009). The leopard cat chiefly preys on rodents but occasionally also feeds on other types of animals depending on region. On small islands with a small number of carnivore species, the cat frequently feeds on non-mammalian prey. As an extreme example of this, the Iriomote cat Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis lives on Iriomote Island, this being the smallest island (284 km2) known to be inhabited by this predator (Watanabe, 2009; Fig. 1). The felid population on Iriomote Island remained unknown to science until its discovery in 1965 due to the inaccessibility of the dense forest which the cat occupies and to the remoteness of the island (Imaizumi, 1967). The cat had been long considered a separate species due to morphological differences among other small felids of south-east Asia (Imaizumi, 1967; Leyhausen & Pfleiderer, 1999). This species was listed as endangered in International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources [IUCN] (2000) Red List because of its restricted habitat and small population size, estimated at about 100 individuals (Izawa et al., 2000). The population has declined during the last decade due to habitat loss from development and mortality from traffic accidents (Watanabe et al., 2002). Recently, their taxonomical specific distinction has been questioned by molecular methods (Johnson et al., 1999; Masuda et al., 1994).

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Watanabe, S. (2012). Ecological Flexibility of the Top Predator in an Island Ecosystem - Food Habit of the Iriomote Cat. In Diversity of Ecosystems. InTech. https://doi.org/10.5772/38368

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