Genetic Structure and Phylogeography of the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) Inferred from Mitochondrial Genomes

J Hered. 2017 Jun 1;108(4):349-360. doi: 10.1093/jhered/esx017.


The Leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis is a habitat generalist that is widely distributed across Southeast Asia. Based on morphological traits, this species has been subdivided into 12 subspecies. Thus far, there have been few molecular studies investigating intraspecific variation, and those had been limited in geographic scope. For this reason, we aimed to study the genetic structure and evolutionary history of this species across its very large distribution range in Asia. We employed both PCR-based (short mtDNA fragments, 94 samples) and high throughput sequencing based methods (whole mitochondrial genomes, 52 samples) on archival, noninvasively collected and fresh samples to investigate the distribution of intraspecific genetic variation. Our comprehensive sampling coupled with the improved resolution of a mitochondrial genome analyses provided strong support for a deep split between Mainland and Sundaic Leopard cats. Although we identified multiple haplogroups within the species' distribution, we found no matrilineal evidence for the distinction of 12 subspecies. In the context of Leopard cat biogeography, we cautiously recommend a revision of the Prionailurus bengalensis subspecific taxonomy: namely, a reduction to 4 subspecies (2 mainland and 2 Sundaic forms).

Keywords: Leopard cat; Southeast Asia; habitat generalist; hybrid capture; mitogenome; mtDNA.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asia, Southeastern
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cytochromes b / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Felidae / classification
  • Felidae / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genome, Mitochondrial*
  • Haplotypes
  • Phylogeography
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Cytochromes b