Animals (Jul 2022)

Coexistence between Humans and ‘Misunderstood’ Domestic Cats in the Anthropocene: Exploring Behavioural Plasticity as a Gatekeeper of Evolution

  • Eugenia Natoli,
  • Carla Litchfield,
  • Dominique Pontier

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 13
p. 1717


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Welfare and management decisions for unowned free-ranging cats in urban environments should no longer be based on knowledge about behavioural ecology of solitary cats living and breeding in more natural ‘wild’ environments. We provide evidence that urban free-ranging domestic cats in the Anthropocene have responded to rapidly changing environments, such as abundance of food and higher population densities of conspecifics by adapting their behaviour (behavioural plasticity—the ability of a genotype (individual) to express different behaviours according to its environment) and social organisation to living in complex social groups, especially those living in colonies. Urban free-ranging cats are now more social, as demonstrated by different breeding patterns, lower infanticide, more frequent affiliative interactions in general, and different spatial groupings. We argue that this knowledge should be disseminated widely, and inform future research and strategies used to manage free-ranging cats across environments. Understanding behavioural plasticity and other recently evolved traits of domestic cats may lead to management strategies that maximise health and welfare of cats, wildlife, and humans—otherwise domestic cat behaviour may be ‘misunderstood’. Importantly, interdisciplinary research using expertise from biological and social sciences, and engaging human communities, should evaluate these management strategies to ensure they maintain optimal welfare of free-ranging domestic cats while preserving biodiversity and protecting wildcats.