|Picture from Desktopia.net|
The researchers first collected images from the Internet of the coat patterns of 35 species of cats – including jaguars, cheetahs, tigers and leopards, and other less known species such as the fishing cat and the serval.
Instead of having simple categories such as spots or stripes, they captured detailed differences by linking them to computer-generated patterns. The results were then compared with the type of environment in which each cat lived.
Although there are surprising anomalies such as the cheetah and the tiger, the results showed that cats living in dense habitats such as rainforests, which spend time in trees or are active at low light levels are the most likely to be patterned. These patterns tend to be irregular or complex, with spots of different sizes and shapes.
By comparison, cats living in well lit and uniform environments such as grasslands or plains were more predisposed to have either small spots or simple coats. Dr. Scott Burnell, a wildlife Australian ecologist, thinks there are some interesting similarities between these findings and Australian fauna. He suggests research could be applied to the conservation of endangered marsupials. “If we can identify through their patterning what the most effective vegetation type is so that camouflage can work, that might give us a really good target to look at in order to restore those ecosystems”, he says.