Wildcats threatened by their domestic cousins — ScienceDaily

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European wildcats, thought to be extinct 50 or so years ago in the Jura mountains, have since recolonised part of their former territory. This resurgence in an area occupied by domestic cats has gone hand-in-hand with genetic crosses between the two species. The hybridisation between wild and domesticated organisms is known to endanger the gene pool of wild species. In a study to be published in the journal Evolutionary Applications, a team of biologists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), in collaboration with the University of Zurich and the University of Oxford, modelled the interactions between the two species to predict the future of the wildcat in the mountainous region of the Swiss Jura. The different scenarios modelled by the scientists show that within 200 to 300 years — a very short time in evolutionary terms — hybridisation will entail the irreversible genetic replacement of wildcats, making it impossible to distinguish them from their domestic cousins, as is already the case in Scotland and Hungary.

Although the European wildcat (Felis silvestris) or forest cat was once very common, it fell victim to intensive hunting in the 19th and 20th centuries and to the massive deforestation that cut back its natural habitat, resulting in its disappearance in some parts of Europe. In Switzerland, the wildcat was deemed practically extinct, with no trace found for 25 years from 1943 to 1968. Thanks to a federal law that has protected the animal since 1962, the wildcat has recolonised the forests and meadows in the Jura range, where it lives side-by-side with the domestic cat (Felis catus) in particular. Although considered two species — or as different subspecies by some — wildcats and domestic cats can interbreed and have hybrid, fertile kittens. These have the genome of both species and may give birth