A Mitochondrial Phylogeny of the Sand Cat (Felis margarita Loche, 1858)

Abstract

The sand cat, Felis margarita Loche, 1858, is a small desert cat with a fragmented distribution across the Sahara, Arabian Peninsula, and Central Asia. It is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN; however, its status in many countries is unknown. Sand cats are generally classified into four subspecies: F. m. margarita (North Africa and Sahara), F. m. harrisoni (Arabia), F. m. thinobia (Central Asia), and F. m. scheffeli (Pakistan). The aim of this study was to determine the validity of these subspecies using genetic analysis. Sequences from the mitochondrial control region, mitochondrial NADH subunit 5, and cytochrome b genes (643 bp) were generated in a sample set of 47 animals of known geographical origin, from across the sand cat’s range over the past 100 years. The results of the analysis suggest some degree of genetic differentiation between the African populations (F. m. margarita) and those of Arabian or Central Asian origin, which merits further investigation with nuclear loci and further sampling of intermediate geographical locations. There is little genetic justification for differentiation of the other proposed subspecies (F. m. harrisoni, F. m. thinobia, and F. m. scheffeli), which differ only by 1–3 bp mutations in their haplotypes. The genetic diversity of a set of 86 captive sand cat samples is also generated and compared to facilitate future conservation management of the species in captivity.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Katrin Krohmann at the Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut and Malcolm Pearch at the Harrison Institute for their help in providing us with access to their collections samples. We also thank staff at Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, Bahrain Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Ebeltoft Zoo, Krakow Zoo, Le Parc des Felins (Nesles), London Zoo, Novosibirsk Zoo, Osnabrück Zoo, SOS Care (USA), Twycross Zoo, and Wuppertal Zoo for provision of samples to the authors of this manuscript.

Funding

This work was funded by Al Ain Zoo and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. JCB is supported by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (contract IF/459/2013).

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Contributions

Project conception, management and design: HS, LB, AK,; Writing: JHM, HS, AK, LB; Analysis: JHM, HS; Wet Lab Analysis: JHM and MG; Sample collection/fieldwork: AT, AA, MQ, JCB, SA, GB, AS, KW Critical Review: ALL.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to H. Senn.

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Howard-McCombe, J., Banfield, L., Kitchener, A.C. et al. A Mitochondrial Phylogeny of the Sand Cat (Felis margarita Loche, 1858). J Mammal Evol 27, 525–534 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10914-019-09473-w

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Keywords

  • Conservation genetics
  • Conservation management units
  • Species delimitation
  • Population sub-division
  • Desert fauna
  • Sand cat