Limited historical admixture between European wildcats and domestic cats

Alexandra Jamieson, Alberto Carmagnini, Jo Howard-McCombe, Sean Doherty, Alexandra Hirons, Evangelos Dimopolous, Audrey Lin, Richard Allen, Hugo Anderson-Whymark, Ross Barnett, Colleen Batey, Fiona Beglane, Will Bowden, John Bratten, Bea De Cupere, Ellie Drew, Nicole Foley, Tom Fowler, Allison Fox, Eva-Maria GeiglAnne Birgitte Gotfredsen, Thierry Grange, David Griffiths, Daniel Groß, Ashleigh Haruda, Jesper Hjermind, Zoe Knapp, Ophelie Lebrasseur, Pablo Librado, Leslie Lyons, Ingrid Mainland, Christine McDonnell, Violeta Muñoz-Fuentes, Carsten Nowak, Terry O’Connor, Joris Peters, Isa-Rita Russo, Hannah Ryan, Alison Sheridan, Mikkel-Holger S. Sinding, Pontus Skoglund, Pooja Swali, Robert Symmons, Gabor Thomas, Theis Zetner Trolle Jensen, Andrew Kitchener, Hellen Senn, Daniel Lawson, Carlos Driscoll, William Murphy, Mark A. Beaumont, Claudio Ottoni, Naomi Sykes, Greger Larson, Laurent A. F. Frantz

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Domestic cats were derived from the Near Eastern wildcat (Felis lybica), after which they dispersed with people into Europe. As they did so, it is possible that they interbred with the indigenous population of European wildcats (Felis silvestris). Gene flow between incoming domestic animals and closely related indigenous wild species has been previously demonstrated in other taxa including pigs, sheep, goats, bees, chickens and cattle. In the case of cats, a lack of nuclear, genome-wide data, particularly from Near Eastern wildcats, has made this possibility difficult to either detect or quantify. To address these issues, we generated 75 ancient mitochondrial genomes, 14 ancient nuclear genomes and 31 modern nuclear genomes from European and Near Eastern wildcats. Our results demonstrate that despite cohabitating for at least 2,000 years on the European mainland and in Britain, most modern domestic cats possessed less than 10% of their ancestry from European wildcats, and ancient European wildcats possessed little to no ancestry from domestic cats. The antiquity and strength of this reproductive isolation between introduced domestic cats and local wildcats was likely the result of behavioural and ecological differences. Intriguingly, this long-lasting reproductive isolation is currently being eroded in parts of the species’ distribution as a result of anthropogenic activities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number21
Pages (from-to)4751-4760.e14
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Cats
  • Domestication
  • Palaeogenomics

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