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The Mysterious Chinese Mountain Cat Was Likely Not Involved in Feline Domestication

Genomic evidence for the Chinese mountain cat as a wildcat conspecific (Felis silvestris bieti) and its introgression to domestic cats.

Analyses of genomic data suggest that the little-studied Chinese mountain cat, which has held a controversial taxonomic status, is a subspecies of wildcat and was not involved in feline domestication in China. The findings support the theory that housecats originated solely from the domestication of the African wildcat.

The study also found that the genetic integrity of the Chinese mountain cat may have been disrupted through ancient introgression with the Asiatic wildcat and modern-day mixing with domestic cats. This raises conservation concerns that the Chinese mountain cat could become less suited to its local environment — a crisis that has already befallen the European wildcat.

Scientists have been unsure whether the Chinese mountain cat, which is endemic to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, is a true species or a wildcat subspecies, as well as whether it may have contributed to the domestication of cats in East Asia. While previous research has suggested that a single domestication event from the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) was the origin of tame felines, a lack of sampling in East Asia has left room for uncertainty.

To uncover these mysteries, He Yu and colleagues collected samples from 27 Chinese mountain cats (F. s. bieti), 4 Asiatic wildcats (F. s. ornata), and 239 domestic cats (F. s. catus). The Chinese mountain cat specimens — the largest-ever collection from across the species’ range — included feces, blood, skin tissues, dry pelts, and skulls, while the Asiatic wildcat samples included blood or dry skin and the domestic cat samples consisted of cheek swabs, blood, or skin tissues.

The researchers extracted genomic DNA from the specimens, generating whole genome sequence data for 51 high quality samples, including 4 Chinese mountain cats, 1 Asiatic wildcat, and 46 domestic cats. Yu et al. then reconstructed the cats’ phylogenies, determining that the Chinese mountain cat is a wildcat subspecies.

For more on this research, see The Natural History and Conservation Importance of Elusive Chinese Mountain Cat.

Reference: “Genomic evidence for the Chinese mountain cat as a wildcat conspecific (Felis silvestris bieti) and its introgression to domestic cats” by He Yu, Yue-Ting Xing, Hao Meng, Bing He, Wen-Jing Li, Xin-Zhang Qi, Jian-You Zhao, Yan Zhuang, Xiao Xu, Nobuyuki Yamaguchi, Carlos A. Driscoll, Stephen J. O’Brien and Shu-Jin Luo, 23 June 2021, Science Advances.
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg0221

Source: SciTechDaily