The following article, Wildcats And Domestic Cats Mated For The First Time 50 Years Ago, was first published on Flag And Cross.
Domestic cats and wildcats shared territory for 2,000 years but only mated for the first time 50 years ago in Scotland, scientists have discovered.
New evidence shows that European native wildcats and domestic cats introduced from the Near East did not mate until the 1960s, despite being exposed to each other for 2,000 years.
Two research papers in the journal Current Biology present new evidence that transforms our understanding of the history of cats in Europe.
Professor Mark Beaumont from the University of Bristol said: “The nature of the Scottish wildcat and its relation to feral domestic cats has long been a mystery.”
Domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, dogs, and pigs have been dispersed by humans far from their native ranges since their domestication 10,000 years ago.
Over the last decade, genomic sequences of modern and ancient animals have revealed that as domestic animals moved into new regions, they interbred with closely related wild species, dramatically altering their genomes.
This pattern has been seen in every domestic animal, except dogs.
The team, also from Oxford University, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Munich University, discovered new archaeological and genetic evidence which transforms our understanding of the history of cats in Europe.
They sequenced and analyzed both wild and domestic cats, including 48 modern individuals and 258 ancient samples excavated from 85 archaeological sites over the last 8,500 years.
They then assessed the patterns of hybridization after domestic cats were introduced to Europe over 2,000 years ago and came into contact with native European wildcats.
They discovered that the two types of cat generally avoided mating but suddenly, about 50 years ago in Scotland, rates of interbreeding between wild and domestic cats rose rapidly.
Jo Howard-McCombe from the University of Bristol and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland said: “Wildcats and domestic cats have only hybridized very recently. It is clear that hybridization is a result of modern threats.
“Habitat loss and persecution have pushed wildcats to the brink of extinction in Britain.
“It is fascinating that we can use genetic data to look back at their population history, and use what we have learned to protect Scottish Wildcats.”
Prof. Beaumont added: “Modern molecular methods and mathematical modelling have helped to provide an understanding of what the Scottish wildcat truly is, and the threats that have led to its decline.”
This new evidence suggests that cats and dogs may not be as different as we once believed.
Geneticist Professor Greger Larson from Oxford University said: “We tend to think of cats and dogs as very different.
“Our data suggests that, at least with respect to avoiding interbreeding with their wild counterparts, dogs and cats are much more similar to each other than they are to all other domestic animals.
“Understanding why this is true will be fun to explore.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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