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Krueger, M.; Hertwig, S.T.; Jetschke, G.; Fischer, M.S.
Evaluation of anatomical characters and the question of hybridization with domestic cats in the wildcat population of Thuringia Germany
2009  Journal of Zoologcal Systematics and Evolutionary Research (47): 268-282

Germany's large population of wildcats (_Felis silvestris silvestris_) can be clearly distinguished from domestic cats on the basis of morphological characters. However, an examination of 71 specimens from Thuringia also illustrates the risks involved in using only a few such characters. The most reliable tool for identification in the field are three pelage characters (distinctness of tail bands, stripes on the nape and stripes on the shoulder). Only two morphological characters (intestine length and cranial volume) are unambiguous and demonstrate no overlap in distribution between domestic cats and wildcats. A linear discriminant analysis with forward selection of variables showed that only five skull variables are necessary to distinguish all four groups (subspecies sex). Additionally, the high degree of correlation between most of the 49 variables examined (as indicated by Pearson's r correlation matrix) speaks against the utility of measuring such high numbers of characters in the future. Principal component analysis (PCA) enabled the subspecies to be separated clearly. The first PCA axis was highly correlated with variables characterizing overall body size, thus separating male and female into wildcats and domestic cats. Even when the chief differentiating characters are missing, the PCA still resulted in a good separation of subspecies. None of the genetically determined hybrids could have been deciphered unambiguously using the morphological characters still intact after a road death. Hybridization seems to occur whenever wildcats change their ecological function and become field cats. The impulse to hybridize seems to come much more from the wildcat side than the side of feral cats, and deforestation represents the major threat to the wildcat.

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