DNA Tests Confirm Lynx/Bobcat Hybridization

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Research scientists have verified through DNA analysis evidence of hybridization between wild Canada lynx and bobcats in Maine. Samples collected by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists from two cats were tested at the U.S. Forest Service's genetics laboratory in Missoula, Montana, confirming that the animals, one male and one female, were lynx-bobcat hybrids. The DNA tests further revealed that each was the offspring of a female lynx and a male bobcat.

"We suspected that these two cats were hybrids," said Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Jennifer Vashon. "While they more closely resembled bobcats, each had physical features consistent with lynx such as long ear tufts and an almost completely black-tipped tail."

The Canada lynx is listed under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species in 14 of the lower 48 states, the southern part of its historic range. Wildlife biologists with the Maine DIFW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have jointly studied Canada lynx in northwestern Maine for the past five years as part of efforts to recover the species.

"The DNA evidence in large part indicates that lynx and bobcat populations in Maine remain genetically separate," said Service biologist Dr. John Organ. "Time will tell what, if any, long term affect hybridization will have on the lynx population. In the meantime, we'll continue studying the population in our ongoing efforts to conserve the species in the Northeast." Organ also explained that hybrid lynx-bobcats are not protected under the Endangered Species Act.

"We were not surprised that the 29 lynx samples from our northern Maine study area were determined to be pure lynx, as there are few bobcats in the study area." However, the area where the 2 hybrids were found is where both lynx and bobcat occur in Maine and the likelihood of hybridization I would expect would be greater," said Jennifer Vashon Maine DIFW biologist.

The male lynx-bobcat hybrid was trapped in 1998. The trapper, concerned that the animal could be a lynx, contacted Maine wildlife officials to evaluate the animal. The animal was radio-collared and released. It died several months later apparently of starvation. The female hybrid was trapped during the 2002 fall trapping season. A graduate student from the University of Maine, who was conducting research in the area, first located the female hybrid, which was held in a trap. She observed one kitten in a nearby tree and 2 kittens walking near the trapped female hybrid. Department biologists examined the animal and, suspecting that it was a lynx-bobcat hybrid, collected samples for DNA analysis.

"Now that we have proof that she was a lynx-bobcat mix, the presence of kittens indicates that the lynx and bobcat hybrids can reproduce," said Organ. He explained that the offspring of hybrids of other mammals, such as wolf-dog or donkey-horse hybrids, can be either sterile or fertile.

Canada lynx-bobcat hybrids were first scientifically documented earlier this year in Minnesota, when researchers at the Forest Service genetics laboratory confirmed through DNA analysis that samples from three cats exhibiting characteristics of both species were from lynx-bobcat hybrids. It could not be determined at that time if the hybrids could reproduce.