Context . Seasonal and individual variation in predator selection for primary and alternative prey can affect predator–prey dynamics, which can further influence invasive-predator impacts on rare prey.
Aims . We evaluated individual and seasonal variation in resource selection by feral cats (Felis silvestris catus) for areas with European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) around a breeding colony of endangered black-fronted terns (Chlidonias albostriatus) in the Upper Ohau River, within the Mackenzie Basin of New Zealand.
Methods . Within a feral cat population subject to localised control (within a 1-km area surrounding the tern colony), we mapped the movements of 17 individuals using GPS collars, and evaluated individual and seasonal variation in third-order resource selection (i.e. within home ranges) by using resource-selection functions with mixed effects. The year was divided into breeding and non-breeding seasons for terns.
Key results . Three of the eight feral cats monitored during the breeding season used the colony in proportion to availability and one selected it. These four individuals therefore pose a threat to the tern colony despite ongoing predator control. Selection by feral cats for areas with high relative rabbit abundance was not ubiquitous year-round, despite previous research showing that rabbits are their primary prey in the Mackenzie Basin.
Conclusions . Results suggest that rabbit control around the colony should reduce use by feral cats that select areas with high relative rabbit abundance (less than half the individuals monitored), but is unlikely to alleviate the impacts of those that select areas with low relative rabbit abundance. Hence, predator control is also required to target these individuals. Results thus support the current coupled-control of feral cats and rabbits within a 1-km buffer surrounding the tern colony. Future research should determine what scale of coupled-control yields the greatest benefits to localised prey, such as the tern colony, and whether rabbits aid hyperpredation of terns by feral cats via landscape supplementation.
Implications . The present study has highlighted the importance of considering seasonal and individual effects in resource selection by predators, and the role of primary prey, when designing management programs to protect rare prey.