• Viverridae;
  • Paguma larvata;
  • phylogeography;
  • mitochondrial genes;
  • microsatellites;
  • SARS


The masked palm civet is distributed through south-east Asia, China and the Himalayas. Because of its potential role in the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, it has become important to gather information on this species, and notably to provide a tool to determine the origin of farm and market animals. For this purpose, we studied the genetic variability and the phylogeographic pattern of the masked palm civet Paguma larvata. First, two portions of mitochondrial genes, cytochrome b and the control region, were sequenced for a total of 76 individuals sampled from China, the Indochinese region and the Sundaic region. Results indicated a low genetic variability and suggested a lack of a phylogeographic structure in this species, which do not allow inferring the geographic origin of samples of unknown origin, although it is possible to distinguish individuals from China and the Sundaic region. This low variation is in contrast to the well-marked morphological differentiation between the populations in the Sundaic and Chinese–Indochinese regions. We also used five microsatellite loci to genotype 149 samples from two wild and four farmed populations in China, where the masked palm civet is farmed and where the SARS coronavirus was isolated. These analyses also showed a reduced variability in Chinese civets and showed that farmed populations did not exhibit a lower genetic diversity than wild populations, suggesting frequent introductions of wild individuals into farms.