The researchers followed wild and domestic cats in several regions of Colorado and California to determine whether the cats had been exposed to certain diseases.
The effort includes data from 800 blood samples from felines of all sizes, including 260 bobcats and 200 pumas, which were captured and released, and 275 domestic cats.
"As human development encroaches on natural habitat, wildlife species that live there may be susceptible to diseases we or our domestic animals carry and spread," said Kevin Crooks, a biologist at Colorado State and co-leader of the project.
"At the same time, wildlife can harbor diseases that humans and our pets can in turn get. Diseases may be increasingly transmitted as former natural areas are developed."
The project also looked at whether bobcats in southern California were segregated into different populations by major highways.
By analyzing genetic and pathogen data, the scientists found that bobcats west or east of Highway 5 near Los Angeles rarely interbred, but that the bobcats did cross into each other's territory often enough to share diseases such as FIV.
"The evidence suggests that bobcats are moving across major highways, but are not able to easily set up new home territories," said VandeWoude.
"They can, however, spread diseases to one another when they cross into each other's territories. This could result in inbreeding of the bobcats trapped by urban development and end up in the spread of diseases."
VandeWoude and Crooks say that the results don't necessarily mean that all domestic cats that are allowed to roam outdoors are at a high level of risk. They plan further studies to better assess that risk.
It does mean that domestic cats and wild cats who share the same environment--even if they do not come into contact with each other--also can share diseas
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation