Bayesian analyses of admixture in wild and domestic cats (Felis silvestris) using linked microsatellite loci


Ettore Randi, Fax: +39 051 796628; E-mail:


Methods recently developed to infer population structure and admixture mostly use individual genotypes described by unlinked neutral markers. However, Hardy–Weinberg and linkage disequilibria among independent markers decline rapidly with admixture time, and the admixture signals could be lost in a few generations. In this study, we aimed to describe genetic admixture in 182 European wild and domestic cats (Felis silvestris), which hybridize sporadically in Italy and extensively in Hungary. Cats were genotyped at 27 microsatellites, including 21 linked loci mapping on five distinct feline linkage groups. Genotypes were analysed with structure 2.1, a Bayesian procedure designed to model admixture linkage disequilibrium, which promises to assess efficiently older admixture events using tightly linked markers. Results showed that domestic and wild cats sampled in Italy were split into two distinct clusters with average proportions of membership Q > 0.90, congruent with prior morphological identifications. In contrast, free-living cats sampled in Hungary were assigned partly to the domestic and the wild cat clusters, with Q < 0.50. Admixture analyses of individual genotypes identified, respectively, 5/61 (8%), and 16–20/65 (25–31%) hybrids among the Italian wildcats and Hungarian free-living cats. Similar results were obtained in the past using unlinked loci, although the new linked markers identified additional admixed wildcats in Italy. Linkage analyses confirm that hybridization is limited in Italian, but widespread in Hungarian wildcats, a population that is threatened by cross-breeding with free-ranging domestic cats. The total panel of 27 loci performed better than the linked loci alone in the identification of domestic and known hybrid cats, suggesting that a large number of linked plus unlinked markers can improve the results of admixture analyses. Inferred recombination events led to identify the population of origin of chromosomal segments, suggesting that admixture mapping experiments can be designed also in wild populations.