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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 7, 2014

How accurate are coat traits for discriminating wild and hybrid forms of Felis silvestris?

  • Elena Ballesteros-Duperón EMAIL logo , Emilio Virgós , Marcos Moleón , José M. Barea-Azcón and José M. Gil-Sánchez
From the journal Mammalia


Hybridisation between domestic cats, Felis catus, and wildcats, Felis silvestris, could lead to the genetic extinction of the latter; therefore, checking hybridisation rates in wild populations is of vital conservation importance. However, detecting hybridisation in the field is particularly challenging. Here, we aim to test the success of morphological-based procedures for discriminating wildcats from their hybrids and domestic cats, against genetic methods. We checked 17 putative Spanish wildcats by using two different classification systems based on coat patterns. None of the putative wildcats analysed in this study seemed to have an admixed genotype. Concordance between genetic and pelage approaches was almost total: only one coat classification produced mixed results with detection of one potential hybrid. Assignment was worse when performed in the field after a rapid examination of coat characters. We conclude that classification systems using coat traits could serve as surrogates of genetic approaches, but only after careful examination of those characters with more discriminatory power. Thus, the control of hybrid populations in the field as a management tool to preserve the genetic identity of wild forms is problematic if based on crude approaches or incomplete classification systems.

Corresponding author: Elena Ballesteros-Duperón, Environment and Water Agency of Andalusia, Regional Ministry of Environment of the Junta de Andalucía, C/Joaquina Eguaras, 10, E 18013 Granada, Spain, e-mail: ,
aPresent address: Department of Applied Biology, University Miguel Hernández, Ctra. Beniel km 3.2, 03312 Orihuela, Alicante, Spain.


This work has been supported by the project “Carnivore mammals in the Granada province: distribution, status and management,” conducted by the Regional Ministry of Environment of the Junta de Andalucía. We are very grateful to M. Chirosa for sharing his knowledge and providing support; to R. López, J.F. Sánchez-Clemot and J. Bellido for their assistance during the field work; and the people of the Endangered Species Recovery Centre “El Blanqueo” (Regional Ministry of Environment of the Junta de Andalucía) for providing some wildcat samples. We also sincerely thank R. Oliveira (CTM-LNIV, Centro de Testagem Molecular, Laboratório Nacional de Investigação Veterinária, and CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Universidade do Porto), E. Randi (Laboratory of Genetics, ISPRA, and INFS, Istituto Nazionale per la Fauna Selvatica) and co-workers for analysing microsatellites of our cat samples, and for allowing us to access raw data on cat genotypes. J. Muddeman kindly improved the English, and four anonymous referees provided interesting comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. MM benefitted from a postdoctoral fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Education (Plan Nacional de I+D+i 2008–2011) during the final stage of this article. All work conforms to the legal requirements of the regional government (Regional Ministry of Environment of the Junta de Andalucía, Spain).


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Received: 2013-2-13
Accepted: 2014-2-11
Published Online: 2014-3-7
Published in Print: 2015-2-1

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