The richness of fauna diversity is seen on the Japanese Islands, which range through 3, 000 km. When and from where have theanimals immigrated to Japan? Also, for understanding natural history of the Japanese Islands, it is very importantto investigate evolutinary history and origin of animals distributed on each island. While the evolutionary questions have been paleontologically and geologically examined so far, some of them are still unclear. Recent development of molecular phylogenetic study provides a reliable sight to understanding evolutionary history and origin of species. Advantageously, molecular study can analyze phylogeny of living species without fossil data.
In Japan, two wildcats, the Iriomote cat and the Tsushima cat, live on the Iriomote Island and the Tsushima Island, respectively, where land bridges between the Asian continent and the Japanese Islands were present in the past time. To know evolution of these wildcats gives us useful information for better understanding of natural history of the Japanese Islands. Moreover, because both the wildcats are now endangered, it is now strongly needed to understand phylogenetic status of them for conservation and management. For the reason, we investigated molecular phylongeny of the two wildcats based on mitochondrial DNA sequences, and revealed that both the wildcats are very closely related to the leopard cat Felis bengalensis, which is widespread throughout Asia. Furthermore, from the DNA data, the Iriomote cat and the Tsushima cat were estimated to have diverged from the continental leopard cat approximately 200, 000 and 100, 000 years before present, respectively. The dates estimated by molecular data were in concordance with formation dates of the Ryukyu Arc and the Tsushima Island, respectively. These results suggest that geographic barrier has led fixation of some unique morphological characters into each cat population, while the two Japanese wildcats are still genetically close to the continental leopard cat.