Limited historical admixture between European wildcats and domestic cats

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Abstract

Domestic cats were derived from the Near Eastern wildcat (Felis lybica), after which they dispersed with people into Europe. As they did so, it is possible that they interbred with the indigenous population of European wildcats (Felis silvestris). Gene flow between incoming domestic animals and closely related indigenous wild species has been previously demonstrated in other taxa, including pigs, sheep, goats, bees, chickens, and cattle. In the case of cats, a lack of nuclear, genome-wide data, particularly from Near Eastern wildcats, has made it difficult to either detect or quantify this possibility. To address these issues, we generated 75 ancient mitochondrial genomes, 14 ancient nuclear genomes, and 31 modern nuclear genomes from European and Near Eastern wildcats. Our results demonstrate that despite cohabitating for at least 2,000 years on the European mainland and in Britain, most modern domestic cats possessed less than 10% of their ancestry from European wildcats, and ancient European wildcats possessed little to no ancestry from domestic cats. The antiquity and strength of this reproductive isolation between introduced domestic cats and local wildcats was likely the result of behavioral and ecological differences. Intriguingly, this long-lasting reproductive isolation is currently being eroded in parts of the species' distribution as a result of anthropogenic activities.

Journal details

Journal Current Biology
Volume 33
Issue number 21
Pages 4751-4760.e14
Available online
Publication date