Study of non-metric characters of the skull to determine the epigenetic variability in populations of the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) and domestic cats (Felis catus).
We studied the variability of non-metric cranial traits, mainly foramina, of European wildcats (Felis silvestris silvestris) and domestic cats (Felis catus) from Germany based on 28 non-metric traits in 211 skulls. The domestic cats were grouped together as a statistical population. The wildcats were divided into two populations: Harz and Hesse, which were further subdivided, based on traffic infrastructure, natural landscape, and in the Harz, on time period. Epigenetic variability, epigenetic distance and the fluctuating asymmetry were calculated to assess genetic variability, possible depressions and population stability. The epigenetic variability Iev of the wildcat groups ranged from 0.27 (Hesse II) to 0.40 (Harz I). The difference in Iev between all specimens from Harz and Hesse respectively was less (Iev = 0.37 Harz and 0.31 Hesse). Compared to other studies these values are not assumed to indicate genetic depression. The epigenetic distance between the wildcat samples is 0.0774 overall, and in each case higher between sub-groups of the Harz and Hesse than between groups within these regions, respectively. The significant epigenetic distance between Harz and Hesse might indicate-at least past formerly-restricted connectivity between these regions. The fluctuating asymmetry for wildcats in total is 11.74% and in the sub-groups it ranges from 8.47 to 16.14%. These values are below 20% are at the lower range known from populations of other mammal species. The use of fluctuating asymmetry had also been discussed critically in its usefulness to assess viability of populations.