Small spotted bodies with multiple specific mitochondrial DNAs: existence of diverse and differentiated tigrina lineages or species (<i>Leopardus</i> spp: Felidae, Mammalia) throughout Latin America

<p>We analysed two sets of mitochondrial (mt) DNA data from tigrinas (traditionally, <i>Leopardus tigrinus</i>) we sampled in Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, northwestern and northeastern Argentina and southern Brazil. Additionally, the analysis included some GenBank sequences from southern, central and northeastern Brazil. The first mt set (mt <i>ATP8</i>+mt <i>16S rRNA</i> with 41 tigrina) revealed the existence of seven different tigrina-like haplogroups. They could represent, at least, 4–6 different tigrina species following the Phylogenetic Species Concept (PSC). In the second mt set (mitogenomics with 18 tigrinas), we detected six different tigrina-like haplogroups. They could represent 4–5 different tigrina species – including a possible full new species, which has gone previously unnoticed to the world of science both morphologic and molecularly. Coat patterns of several of these different tigrinas support the molecular differences. We also detected intense hybridization in many Andean tigrina with margays (<i>Leopardus wiedii</i>) and ocelots (<i>Leopardus pardalis</i>) as well as hybridization of one Bolivian tigrina with <i>Leopardus geoffroyi</i>. Similar hybridization was found for many of the southern Brazilian tigrina (<i>Leopardus guttulus</i>). All of the temporal split estimates for these tigrina haplogroups, together with those of the <i>Leopardus</i> species recognized to date, began in the late Pliocene but mostly occurred during the Pleistocene. In agreement with the existence of multiple species within the traditional <i>L. tigrinus</i> species, we detected strong and significant spatial structure in the two mt data sets. There were clear circular clines. A major part of the analyses detected more genetic resemblance between the Central American + trans Andean Colombian and Ecuadorian tigrina (<i>L. oncilla</i>) with the most geographically distant tigrina from central and southern Brazil (<i>L. guttulus</i>; pure individuals not hybridized with <i>L. geoffroyi</i>). In comparison, the Andean tigrina taxa had intermediate geographical origins but were highly genetically differentiated both from the Central American + trans Andean Colombian-Ecuadorian tigrina and from the central and southern Brazilian tigrina.</p>