Wilson: Feral cats, bobcats unlikely to mate in the wild
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Q: About 15 years ago I read about bobcats mating with feral house cats, producing hybrid offspring. The concern at that time was that too much of this could threaten the bobcat population with extinction as a distinct life form. In a more recent Science 2006 article, studies of DNA showed eight lineages of Felidae. Modern day cats, Felis cattus, are considered the most recent to split off from the ancestral line. Lynx rufus, the bobcat, is shown as three lineages earlier. Could such distantly related species breed successfully? Are scientists concerned for the future of this species? (Julie V., Gualala)
A: The concept you are referring to is "outbreeding depression." Breeding with closely related subspecies can dilute the genotype and cause a loss of the pure characteristics. Behaviors of bobcats are different from feral cats to the degree that they don't recognize each other as a breeding partner. Because of this, outbreeding depression is not an issue with bobcats.
According to Senior Wildlife Biologist Doug Updike, sometimes this is intentionally done with endangered species to bolster the genetic fitness of endangered species with low genetic heterogeneity. This was done with the Florida panther as its population numbers were on the brink of extinction and the breeding success was very poor due to genetic-linked anomalies. Breeding them with closely related cougars from Texas caused the detrimental recessive traits to go away and the populations are rebounding.
Bobcats are widely distributed in North America, they are abundant and they interact with feral cats in only limited locations.
Although bobcats and domestic or feral cats may show some similar physical characteristics, behaviors of bobcats are different from feral cats to the degree that they don't recognize each other as breeding partners.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org