Matias, G., Rosalino, L.M., Rosa, J.L. & Monterroso, P. (2021) Wildcat population density in NE Portugal: a regional stronghold for a nationally threatened felid.Population Ecology, 63(3), 247-259. DOI:10.1002/1438-390X.12088 (IF2020 2,100; Q3 Ecology)
Population density data on depleted and endangered wildlife species are essential to assure their effective management and, ultimately, conservation. The European wildcat is an elusive and threatened species inhabiting the Iberian Peninsula, with fragmented populations and living in low densities. We fitted spatial capture–recapture models on camera-trap data, to provide the first estimate of wildcat density for Portugal and assess the most influential drivers determining it. The study was implemented in Montesinho Natural Park (NE Portugal), where we identified nine individuals, over a total effort of 3,477 trap-nights. The mean density estimate was 0.032 ± 0.012 wildcat/km2, and density tended to increase with distance to humanized areas, often linked to lower human disturbance and domestic cat presence, with forest and herbaceous vegetation cover and with European rabbit abundance. Although, this density estimate is within the range of values estimated for protected areas elsewhere in the Iberian Peninsula, our estimates are low at the European level. When put in context, our results highlight that European wildcats may be living in low population densities across the Iberian Mediterranean biogeographic region. No phenotypic domestic or hybrid cats were detected, suggesting potentially low admixture rates between the two species, although genetic sampling would be required to corroborate this assertion. We provide evidence that Montesinho Natural Park may be a suitable area to host a healthy wildcat population, and thus be an important protected area in this species' conservation context.