The flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps) is a wetland specialist, currently facing habitat loss on a serious scale due to massive destruction of lowland forests and wetlands in Southeast Asia. Despite its ‘endangered’ status in the IUCN Red List, there has virtually been no investigation on the population structure nor on the evolutionary history of the flat-headed cat. To fill this gap, we used full mitochondrial genome sequences, obtained from archival samples, covering the historical distribution of the flat-headed cat. Our data revealed a high genetic differentiation (Fst = 0.81, P < 0.001) between mitochondrial lineages from Borneo and those from Thai-Malay Peninsula/Sumatra, a split that was dated to ~575 Kya. Such a significant differentiation clearly distinguishes the Bornean flat-headed cat population from all other populations and suggests that there should be a reassessment of the flat-headed cat’s intraspecific taxonomy. However, morphological and nuclear data are required to corroborate our mtDNA results. Until such data become available, we recommend that for future conservation efforts and captive breeding programmes the two genetically distinct flat-headed cat populations are managed separately as two lineages to maintain the original genetic diversity of this endangered species.
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