Biology Faculty Articles
The Population Origins and Expansion of Feral Cats in Australia
Journal of Heredity
Felis catus, Felis silvestris silvestris, Genetic structure, Microsatellite, Population ecology, Wild cat
The historical literature suggests that in Australia, the domestic cat (Felis catus) had a European origin [~200 years before present (ybp)], but it is unclear if cats arrived from across the Asian land bridge contemporaneously with the dingo (4000 ybp), or perhaps immigrated ~40000 ybp in association with Aboriginal settlement from Asia. The origin of cats in Australia is important because the continent has a complex and ancient faunal assemblage that is dominated by endemic rodents and marsupials and lacks the large placental carnivores found on other large continents. Cats are now ubiquitous across the entire Australian continent and have been implicit in the range contraction or extinction of its small to medium sized (<3.5kg) mammals. We analyzed the population structure of 830 cats using 15 short tandem repeat (STR) genomic markers. Their origin appears to come exclusively from European founders. Feral cats in continental Australia exhibit high genetic diversity in comparison with the low diversity found in populations of feral cats living on islands. The genetic structure is consistent with a rapid westerly expansion from eastern Australia and a limited expansion in coastal Western Australia. Australian cats show modest if any population structure and a close genetic alignment with European feral cats as compared to cats from Asia, the Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Indian Ocean), and European wildcats (F. silvestris silvestris).
Spencer, Peter B.S.; Andrey A. Yurchenko; Victor A. David; Rachael Scott; Klaus Peter Koepfli; Carlos Driscoll; Stephen J. O'Brien; and Marilyn Menotti-Raymond. 2016. "The Population Origins and Expansion of Feral Cats in Australia." Journal of Heredity 107, (2): 104-114. doi:10.1093/jhered/esv095.