Evolutionary history of the Eurasian lynx

The first felid-like carnivores appeared 35 million years ago (mya) [1]. After the emergence of the first extant cat species in the Miocene, they underwent a rapid radiation, with many speciation events, especial during the last one million years. This radiation is correlated to movement across and colonization of the different zoogeographical regions [1]. Modern Felidae form eight major lineages (Fig. 1), with lynx being basal to puma, leopard cat and domestic cat lineages (Fig. 1) [1]. The lynx lineage includes four species: the Canada lynx Lynx canadensis, the bobcat Lynx rufus, the Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus and the Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx. Their origin and migrations are postulated as follows: At 8.5-8.0 mya a common ancestor of the five felid lineages ocelot, lynx, puma, leopard cat and domestic cat migrated across the Behring land bridge to North America. While the other lineages migrated further, the ancestor of the lynx lineage remained on the North American continent. A divergence within the lynx lineage occurred 1.6 -1.2 mya in North America. The bobcat Lynx rufus and Canadian lynx Lynx canadensis evolved from a North American ancestor, and are distributed across North America today, while the ancestor of the Iberian and Eurasian lynx migrated into Eurasia by crossing the Behring Strait land bridge that emerged during glacial periods [1].

evolutionary histroy eurasian lynx Figure 1: Phylogenetic maximum likelihood tree of the Felidae. The 38 felid species are grouped in eight major lineages (after [1]).

Today the Iberian lynx is limited to a small area in Spain and Portugal, while the survival of these species is uncertain at present. The Eurasian lynx originally had a wide geographic distribution throughout Europe and Asia, but is now much reduced in the European portion of its distribution (Fig. 2).

For the Eurasian lynx, different sources list different numbers of subspecies and populations. Based on the KORA report [2] following distrubtion can be assumed:

eurasian lynx distribution map

Figure 4: Distribution map of the Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx; Map: Eurasia (IUCN red list http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=12519). Subspecies after KORA report [2]: LX: Lynx lynx lynx, WA: L. l. wardi, KY: L. l. kozlovi, WR: L. l. wrangeli, ST: L. l. stroganovi, CA: L. l. carpathicus, MA: L. l. martinoi, DI: L.l. dinniki, IS: L. l. isabellinus




[1] Johnson WE, Eizirik E, Pecon-Slattery J, Murphy WJ, Antunes A, Teeling E, O’Brien SJ (2006) The late Miocene radiation of modern Felidae: a genetic assessment. Science 311, 73-77.

[2] Arx Mv, Breitenmoser-Würsten C, Zimmermann F, Breitenmoser U (2004) Status and conservation of the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) in Europe in 2001. KORA Bericht Nr. 19 e.


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