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Sympatric Asian felid phylogeography reveals a major Indochinese–Sundaic divergence



The dynamic geological and climatological history of Southeast Asia has spawned a complex array of ecosystems and 12 of the 37 known cat species, making it the most felid-rich region in the world. To examine the evolutionary histories of these poorly studied fauna, we compared phylogeography of six species (leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis, fishing cat P. viverrinus, Asiatic golden cat Pardofelis temminckii, marbled cat P. marmorata, tiger Panthera tigris and leopard P. pardus) by sequencing over 5 kb of DNA each from 445 specimens at multiple loci of mtDNA, Y and X chromosomes. All species except the leopard displayed significant phylogenetic partitions between Indochina and Sundaland, with the central Thai–Malay Peninsula serving as the biogeographic boundary. Concordant mtDNA and nuclear DNA genealogies revealed deep Indochinese–Sundaic divergences around 2 MYA in both P. bengalensis and P. marmorata comparable to previously described interspecific distances within Felidae. The divergence coincided with serial sea level rises during the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene, and was probably reinforced by repeated isolation events associated with environmental changes throughout the Pleistocene. Indochinese–Sundaic differentiations within P. tigris and P. temminckii were more recent at 72–108 and 250–1570 kya, respectively. Overall, these results illuminate unexpected, deep vicariance events in Southeast Asian felids and provide compelling evidence of species-level distinction between the Indochinese and Sundaic populations in the leopard cat and marbled cat. Broader sampling and further molecular and morphometric analyses of these species will be instrumental in defining conservation units and effectively preserving Southeast Asian biodiversity.

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