Trigo, T. C., Freitas, T. R. O., Kunzler, G., Cardoso, L., Silva, J. C. R., Johnson, W. E., O’Brien, S. J., Bonatto, S. L., & Eizirik, E. (2008). Inter-species hybridization among Neotropical cats of the genus Leopardus , and evidence for an introgressive hybrid zone between L. geoffroyi and L. tigrinus in southern Brazil. Molecular Ecology, 17(19), 4317–4333.
Natural hybrid zones between distinct species have been reported for many taxa, but so far, few examples involve carnivores or Neotropical mammals in general. In this study, we employed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences and nine microsatellite loci to identify and characterize a hybrid zone between two Neotropical felids, Leopardus geoffroyi and L. tigrinus, both of which are well-established species having diverged from each other c. 1 million years ago. These two felids are mostly allopatric throughout their ranges in South America, with a narrow contact zone that includes southern Brazil. We present strong evidence for the occurrence of hybridization between these species and identify at least 14 individuals (most of them originating from the geographical contact zone) exhibiting signs of interspecific genomic introgression. The genetic structure of Brazilian L. tigrinus populations seems to be affected by this introgression process, showing a gradient of differentiation from L. geoffroyi correlated with distance from the contact zone. We also corroborate and extend previous findings of hybridization between L. tigrinus and a third related felid, L. colocolo, leading to an unusual situation for a mammal, in which the former species contains introgressed mtDNA lineages from two distinct taxa in addition to its own. © 2008 The Authors.