AboutZoos, Since 2008


Cryp­tic new species of wild cat iden­ti­fied in Brazil

pub­lished 29 Novem­ber 2013 | mod­i­fied 03 Novem­ber 2014

Researchers report­ing in the Cell Press jour­nal Cur­rent Biol­ogy on 27 Novem­ber have iden­ti­fied a cryp­tic new species of wild cat liv­ing in Brazil. The dis­cov­ery is a reminder of just how lit­tle sci­en­tists still know about the nat­ural world, even when it comes to such charis­matic crea­tures. The find­ings also have impor­tant con­ser­va­tion impli­ca­tions for the cats, the researchers say.

OncillaSci­en­tists had thought that there was a sin­gle species of housecat-​sized Brazil­ian tig­rina. How­ever, the mol­e­c­u­lar data now show that tig­rina pop­u­la­tions in north­east­ern ver­sus south­ern Brazil are com­pletely sep­a­rate, with no evi­dence of inter­breed­ing between them. As such, they are best described as two dis­tinct species.

“Our study high­lights the need for urgent atten­tion focused on the Brazil­ian north­east­ern tigri­nas or oncil­las, which are vir­tu­ally unknown with respect to most aspects of their biol­ogy,” says Eduardo Eizirik of Pon­tif­í­cia Uni­ver­si­dade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, not­ing that much more is known about the cats liv­ing in the south­ern part of the country.

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 hybridi­s­a­tion and move­ment of genes between the pam­pas cat (Leop­ar­dus colo­colo) and the north­east­ern tigri­nas (Leop­ar­dus tigri­nus). In con­trast, south­ern tigri­nas (newly rec­og­nized as Leop­ar­dus gut­tulus) con­tinue to hybridise with Geoffroy’s cats (Leop­ar­dus geof­froyi), lead­ing to extreme lev­els of inter­breed­ing between the species along their con­tact zone. Those pat­terns add to evi­dence that hybridi­s­a­tion 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 recog­nised species and may have been involved in their ini­tial evo­lu­tion­ary diver­gence,” Trigo says. More­over, 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.”

Watch the beauty of a tigri­nus or oncilla. This spec­i­men spot­ted on a jun­gle trail near the Are­nal Vol­cano was hand-​raised in a nearby vil­lage (it remains unclear why) and released back in the Costa Rica rainforest:

(Video by hra49)

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at EurekAlert, Arkive and YouTube. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.
(Source: EurekAlert news release, 27.11.2013)

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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