For many years the clouded leopard was traditionally regarded as a monotypic genus with four subspecies. But recent molecular genetic analyses (mtDNA, nuclear DNA sequences, microsatellite variation, and cytogenetic differences) have revealed that there is however a strong case for reclassification and the defining of two distinct species of clouded leopard - Neofelis nebulosa (mainland Asia) and Neofelis diardi (Indonesian archipelago). This case for two clouded leopard species based on genetic distinction that is equivalent to, or greater than, comparable measures among other Panthera species (lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, and snow leopard) is also strongly supported by the geographical variation revealed by morphometric analyses of the pelage (coat colour and patterns) between clouded leopard in Mainland Asia and in Indonesia (Borneo and Sumatra); again providing a compelling case for reclassification into two distinct species N. nebulosa and N. diardi. Paper abstracts follow:
Valerie A. Buckley-Beason, Warren E. Johnson, Willliam G. Nash, Roscoe Stanyon, Joan C. Menninger, Carlos A. Driscoll, JoGayle Howard, Mitch Bush, John E. Page, Melody E. Roelke et al. 2006. Molecular Evidence for Species-Level Distinctions in Clouded Leopards. Current Biology 16(23): 2371-2376.
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 (Figure 1A). 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 (Figure 1A, Tables S1 and S2 in the Supplemental Data available online). 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).
Andrew C. Kitchener, Mark A. Beaumont and Douglas Richardson. 2006. Geographical Variation in the Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, Reveals Two Species. Current Biology 16(23): 2377-2383.
The clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, is an endangered semiarboreal felid with a wide distribution in tropical forests of southern and southeast Asia, including the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in the Indonesian archipelago. In common with many larger animal species, it displays morphological variation within its wide geographical range and is currently regarded as comprising of up to four subspecies. It is widely recognized that taxonomic designation has a major impact on conservation planning and action. Given that the last taxonomic revision was made over 50 years ago, a more detailed examination of geographical variation is needed. We describe here the results of a morphometric analysis of the pelages of 57 clouded leopards sampled throughout the species' range. We conclude that there are two distinct morphological groups, which differ primarily in the size of their cloud markings. These results are supported by a recent genetic analysis. On that basis, we give diagnoses for the distinction of two species, one in mainland Asia (N. nebulosa) and the other in Indonesia (N. diardi). The implications for conservation that arise from this new taxonomic arrangement are discussed.