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Genetic swamping of the critically endangered Scottish wildcat was recent and accelerated by disease

Howard-McCombe, Jo, Jamieson, Alexandra, Carmagnini, Alberto, Russo, Isa-Rita M. ORCID:, Ghazali, Muhammad, Campbell, Ruairidh, Driscoll, Carlos, Murphy, William J., Nowak, Carsten, O'Connor, Terry, Tomsett, Louise, Lyons, Leslie A., Muñoz-Fuentes, Violeta, Bruford, Michael W. ORCID:, Kitchener, Andrew C., Larson, Greger, Frantz, Laurent, Senn, Helen, Lawson, Daniel J. and Beaumont, Mark A. 2023. Genetic swamping of the critically endangered Scottish wildcat was recent and accelerated by disease. Current Biology 33 (21) , pp. 4761-4769. 10.1016/j.cub.2023.10.026

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The European wildcat population in Scotland is considered critically endangered as a result of hybridization with introduced domestic cats,1,2 though the time frame over which this gene flow has taken place is unknown. Here, using genome data from modern, museum, and ancient samples, we reconstructed the trajectory and dated the decline of the local wildcat population from viable to severely hybridized. We demonstrate that although domestic cats have been present in Britain for over 2,000 years,3 the onset of hybridization was only within the last 70 years. Our analyses reveal that the domestic ancestry present in modern wildcats is markedly over-represented in many parts of the genome, including the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). We hypothesize that introgression provides wildcats with protection against diseases harbored and introduced by domestic cats, and that this selection contributes to maladaptive genetic swamping through linkage drag. Using the case of the Scottish wildcat, we demonstrate the importance of local ancestry estimates to both understand the impacts of hybridization in wild populations and support conservation efforts to mitigate the consequences of anthropogenic and environmental change

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Publisher: Cell Press
ISSN: 0960-9822
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 13 November 2023
Date of Acceptance: 17 October 2023
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2024 02:47

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