A wildcat which is part of the Saving Wildcats conservation breeding for release programme. | © Saving Wildcats
Over 2,000 years ago, the domestic cat came to Europe from the Middle East, since when it has lived alongside the native European wildcat. But when it came to mating, domestic cats and wildcats steered clear of each other for a long time. This has been revealed by genetic analyses carried out by an international team of researchers led by LMU paleontologist Professor Laurent Frantz and Professor Greger Larson (Oxford University).
The experts sequenced and analyzed the genome of wildcats and domestic cats, including 48 modern individuals and 258 specimens up to 8,500 years old recovered from archeological sites. Then they investigated whether, and to what extent, hybridizations took place.
The scientists discovered that domestic cats and wildcats generally avoided mating. To this day, less than 10 percent of the genetic ancestry of most modern domestic cats can be traced back to wildcats. “Our studies show that the biology of domestic cats diverges so far from that of wildcats that they normally would not interbreed,” says Frantz. “This is probably because domestic cats and wildcats have adapted to very different ecological niches and engage in quite different behavior: wildcats are solitary animals, whereas domestic cats can live in much greater densities.”