A new species of wildcat has just been identified in Brazil by researchers from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul. The new species — Leopardus guttulus — is currently listed as threatened.
It had previously been assumed that there was just a single species of housecat-sized Brazilian tigrina, but now new research has revealed that the tigrina populations of northeastern Brazil are genetically distinct from those in southern Brazil — the two populations show no evidence of interbreeding.
“Our study highlights the need for urgent attention focused on the Brazilian northeastern tigrinas, which are virtually unknown with respect to most aspects of their biology,” states Eduardo Eizirik of Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.
The press release provides more:
The new study by Eizirik, Tatiane Trigo of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, and their colleagues further revealed a complicated set of relationships between the tigrinas and two other species of Neotropical cats. That evolutionary history includes ancient hybridization and movement of genes between the pampas cat and the northeastern tigrinas (Leopardus tigrinus). In contrast, southern tigrinas (newly recognized as Leopardus guttulus) continue to hybridize with Geoffroy’s cats, leading to extreme levels of interbreeding between the species along their contact zone. Those patterns add to evidence that hybridization can and does occur between distinct animal species.
As for the two tigrina species, the researchers suggest that they may be suited to different habitats, with the northeastern cats living primarily in savannahs, as well as dry shrub lands and forests, and the southern species living in denser and wetter Atlantic forests.
“Such distinct habitat associations provide a hint to potentially adaptive differences between these newly recognized species and may have been involved in their initial evolutionary divergence,” Trigo notes.
Eizirik adds: “All four species are threatened, and we need to understand as much as possible regarding their genetics, ecology, and evolution to be able to design adequate conservation strategies on their behalf.”
The new findings were just detailed in a paper published in the journal Current Biology.
Image Credit: Captive Leopardus Guttulus via Flickr CC