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Modelling the dynamic biogeography of the wildcat: implications for taxonomy and conservation

Authors

  • A. C. Kitchener,

    1. Department of Natural Sciences, National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
    2. Institute of Geography, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
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  • E. E. Rees

    1. Institute of Geography, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
    2. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
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  • Editor: Jean-Nicolas Volff

Correspondence
Andrew C. Kitchener, Department of Natural Sciences, National Museums Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JF, UK. Tel: +44 31 247 4240; Fax: +44 31 220 4819
Email: a.kitchener@nms.ac.uk

Abstract

There is still no clear consensus on how to relate geographical variation in the morphology and genetics of the globally widespread wildcat Felis silvestris to its taxonomy and systematics. Reconstructing the dynamic biogeography of the wildcat provides insight into how current geographical patterns of morphological and molecular variation may have developed. A geographical information system was used to infer climate-change influences using a deduced distribution model (DDM) to reconstruct the wildcat's geographical distribution at four points in time from the Last Glacial Maximum [LGM; 18 000 years before present (bp)] until today. The DDM for 9000 bp, when mean global temperatures were 2 °C more than today, provides insight into how current global warming will affect the wildcat's distribution 50–100 years into future. Modelled distributions were assessed against known geographical barriers or unsuitable habitats, which may have separated populations and led to known morphological and genetic divergence. The DDMtoday corresponds well with known contemporary wildcat distribution records, except where wildcats would be expected to be excluded (e.g. high human population densities, potential competitors, inaccessible islands). The DDMtoday also corresponds closely with the results of recent studies on skull morphometrics and phylogeography, which support hypothesized colonizations of Africa and Asia from Europe during the late Pleistocene. Although DDM palaeo-distributions are more uncertain, they correspond to expected dramatic declines in northern Eurasia during the LGM, and significant distributional decline in central Asia, the Sahara and southern Africa, owing to increased aridity during climate cooling. From the DDM9000 model moderate global warming is hypothesized to impact minimally on wildcats, except in the Middle East and south-west Asia.

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