Molecular Evidence for Species-Level Distinctions in Clouded Leopards
Among the 37 living species of Felidae, the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is generally classified as a monotypic genus basal to the Panthera lineage of great cats. This secretive, mid-sized (16–23 kg) carnivore, now severely endangered, is traditionally subdivided into four southeast Asian subspecies. We used molecular genetic methods to re-evaluate subspecies partitions and to quantify patterns of population genetic variation among 109 clouded leopards of known geographic origin. We found strong phylogeographic monophyly and large genetic distances between N. n. nebulosa (mainland) and N. n. diardi (Borneo; n = 3 individuals) with mtDNA (771 bp), nuclear DNA (3100 bp), and 51 microsatellite loci. Thirty-six fixed mitochondrial and nuclear nucleotide differences and 20 microsatellite loci with nonoverlapping allele-size ranges distinguished N. n. nebulosa from N. n. diardi. Along with fixed subspecies-specific chromosomal differences, this degree of differentiation is equivalent to, or greater than, comparable measures among five recognized Panthera species (lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, and snow leopard). These distinctions increase the urgency of clouded leopard conservation efforts, and if affirmed by morphological analysis and wider sampling of N. n. diardi in Borneo and Sumatra, would support reclassification of N. n. diardi as a new species (Neofelis diardi).
Buckley-Beason, Valerie A.; Warren E. Johnson; William G. Nash; Roscoe Stanyon; Joan C. Menninger; Carlos A. Driscoll; JoGayle Howard; Mitch E. Bush; J. E. Page; Melody E. Roelke; Gary Stone; Paolo Martelli; Ci Wen; Lin Ling; Ratna K. Duraisingam; Phan V. Lam; and Stephen J. O'Brien. 2006. "Molecular Evidence for Species-Level Distinctions in Clouded Leopards." Current Biology 16, (23): 2371-2376. http://nsuworks.nova.edu/cnso_bio_facarticles/540