ECOLOGY/EVOLUTION: A Conservation of Clouds

Science  22 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5807, pp. 1843b
DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5807.1843b

DNA sequencing and careful morphometric analysis can reveal hidden differences between populations of organisms originally considered members of a single species, which can lead to their reclassification as two or more species. Such taxonomic splitting can have important implications for conservation if, for example, an already rare species turns out to be two or more even rarer ones.

The clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, is such an example. This increasingly rare animal is found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, with the subspecies N. n. nebulosa occurring on the mainland and the subspecies N. n. diardii on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Buckley-Beason et al. compared nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences from several mainland and island individuals, and they concluded that the genetic differences were at least as great as those among other large cat species (lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, and snow leopard). Kitchener et al. compared the coat patterns of a larger sample of individuals and found clear evidence for two distinct groups on the basis of the size and shape of the clouds on the shoulders of these animals; they recommend that the clouded leopard now become two distinct species, N. nebulosa and N. diardii. — AMS

Curr. Biol. 16, 2371; 2377 (2006).

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