The felid species of South America are thought to have arrived on the continent during the Great American Biotic Interchange (GABI) in the Pleistocene. However, molecular and palaeontological data do not agree on how this event affected speciation in felids. Here, we determine both the number of colonization events and the period when felines first migrated from North America to South America. In addition, we evaluate whether similar evolutionary events could have affected the eight Neotropical cat species in their levels of genetic diversity, spatial genetic structure and demographic changes. We analysed four concatenated mitochondrial genes of the jaguar, ocelot, margay, tigrina, pampas cat, Andean cat, puma and jaguarundi. The samples were representative of a wide distribution of these species in Central and South America. Our analysis suggests either three or four colonization events from North America to South America over the past 3 Myr, followed by subsequent speciation events and the attainment of high or very high genetic diversity levels for seven of the species. No unique evolutionary process was detected for any of the current Neotropical cat species.
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- Neotropical wild cats
- South America colonization
- comparative phylogeography
- mitochondrial genes