Preserving genetic integrity in a hybridising world: are European Wildcats (Felis silvestris silvestris) in eastern France distinct from sympatric feral domestic cats?
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We investigate the genetic profile of putative European Wildcats in north-eastern France, possessing the wildcat phenotype, but sampled in an area where they are sympatric with free-roaming domestic cats and, thus, are exposed to potential hybridisation. From a sample of 209 cats, the programme STRUCTURE clearly identified two distinct genetic clusters that corresponded to European Wildcats and domestic cats. The cats from these two clusters were clearly differentiated from each other (F ST = 0.16). However, the genotypes of some individual cats were split between the two clusters, indicative of genetic admixture. Our analysis demonstrates that a genetically distinct population of cats that possess the European Wildcat phenotype persists in north-eastern France, but that there is a low, yet real, risk of hybridisation with sympatric domestic cats. These European Wildcats warrant conservation efforts to protect their genetic integrity.
KeywordsBayesian admixture analysis Conservation genetics European Wildcats Felis silvestris Hybridization Domestic cats
We thank Estelle Germain (CERFE), Luc Baudot, Olivier Hubert, Emmanuel Lienard and all the technicians for their help in the collection of cats and in the laboratory work. This study was supported by the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage and the CNRS.
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