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Intraspecific diversification of the wildcat (Felis silvestris), including the European wildcat (F. s. silvestris), the Asian wildcat (F. s. ornata) and the African wildcat (F. s. lybica), was examined based on 39 cranial morphology variables. The samples of free-ranging cats originated from Britain, Europe, Central Asia and southern Africa, consisting of both nominal wildcat specimens (referred to henceforth as 'wildcats') and nominal non-wildcat specimens ('non-wild-cats') based on museum labels. The skull morphology of 'wildcats' from Britain and Europe is clearly different from that of 'wildcats' of Central Asia and southern Africa. The latter are characterized especially by their proportionately larger cheek teeth. On the basis of principal component, discriminant function and canonical variate analyses, the skull morphology of British 'non-wildcats' is less distinct than is that of British 'wildcats' from the skull morphologies of 'wildcats' of Central Asia and southern Africa. On the other hand, the skull morphology of southern African 'non-wildcats' is as distinct from those of 'wildcats' of Britain and Europe as is that of southern African 'wildcats'. We suggest that the evolution of the modern wildcat probably consisted of at least three different distribution expansions punctuated by two differentiation events: the exodus from Europe during the late Pleistocene, coinciding with the emergence of the steppe wildcat lineage (phenotype of Asian-African wildcat), followed by its rapid range expansion in the Old World. The second differentiation event was the emergence of the domestic cat followed by its subsequent colonization of the entire world with human assistance. Considering the recent evolutionary history of, and morphological divergence in, the wildcat, preventing hybridization between the European wildcat and the domestic cat is a high conservation priority. © 2004 The Linnean Society of London.

Original publication




Journal article


Biological Journal of the Linnean Society

Publication Date





47 - 63