The small wild cat species can influence the vegetation in their habitat. It’s a chain of events and the influence of the presence of the cat is indirect.
Biodiversity: predators of any kind have been repeatedly shown to maintain higher community biodiversity. Without predators ecosystems have reduced biodiversity. Ecosystems are dominated by the strongest competitors. Biodiversity has an impact on vegetation. Vegetation is an integral part of ecosystem composition, function, and structure. “If small cats are removed from an area, over time there would be a quantifiable reduction of biodiversity…The resulting change in prey relative abundances and species losses would, over time, cause a change in vegetation.” The quote comes from the book Small Wild Cats by James Sanderson and Patrick Watson.
Herbivore control: although the small wild cat species are often no bigger than a domestic cat, they help control populations of small herbivores such as rabbits and rodents. They regulate the number of these animals and in turn limit the impact that they have on the vegetation. The small wild cats can prevent overgrazing and allow vegetation to thrive.
Predator-induced fear: small herbivores are frightened of small wild cats. They have a fear response. The presence of cats result affects their behaviour and foraging patterns. Small herbivores may avoid areas where they perceive a risk of predation by a cat which in turn results in reduced grazing in that area and reduced pressure on vegetation. This can promote the growth of certain plant species and improve plant diversity.
Seed dispersal: the small wild cats can also contribute to seed dispersal. Once again it is a chain of events: the small cat eats a prey animal, a herbivore, and inside that animal’s belly are seeds. The cat then passes those seeds through its digestive system and deposits the seeds as faeces in a different location to where the prey animal was killed. Sometimes a cat might regurgitate some seeds in vomit; once again seeds are distributed to different areas.
Habitat modification: small wild cats of various species can alter the habitat where they live by modifying its structure and the density of the vegetation as they create shelters (den sites) or dig burrows. The modifications can influence vegetation patterns by for example altering the availability of light into an area, altering the moisture retention or nutrient cycling.
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