Are the wildcats’ populations throughout Europe loosing the integrity of their gene pool?
The widespread occurrence of free-ranging domestic or feral cats in Europe is raising fear that introgressive hybridization with wildcats ( Felis silvestris) populations might disrupt local adaptations, leading to population decline and loss of biodiversity. It is difficult to make estimates of the degree of admixture when the gene frequencies in the native population prior to admixture are unknown. The use of hypervariable DNA markers (microsatellites) and new statistical methods (Bayesian models), have improved the assessment of cryptic population structure, admixture analyses and individual assignment testing. Results indicate that wild and domestic cat are genetically distinct in central and southwest Europe, but introgressive hybridization can be locally pervasive (Scotland, Hungary, Sardinia), and that conservation plans should be implemented to preserve the integrity of the gene pools of wild populations.
1. Hybridization with translocated or domesticated populations of cats is increasing the risks of genetic deterioration and extinction of the wildcat
2. In Scotland the genetic markers indicated substantial gene flow from the domestic to the wild-living population
3. In southern and central Europe, Bayesian clustering showed that wildcats were assigned to distinct clusters, but that they are extensively admixed in the sampled location in Hungary
4. In Italy the existence of many ‘‘private’’ alleles suggests that between wild and domestic cats there is little gene flow, with the notable exception of Sardinia
5. Using improved markers and more then 20 microsatellite loci would allow a better monitoring of hybridization
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