Arboreality in Clouded Leopards (Neofelis nebulosa)
PHYLOGENY OF THE CLOUDED LEOPARD
Figure from Davis et al. 2010. Maximum likelihood (ML) phylogenetic tree constructed using a supermatrix rooted with the clouded leopard as the outgroup.
The phylogeny of the big cats has been widely debated, but most studies have suggested that the clouded leopard is a link between the Pantherinae and Felinae subfamilies. Clouded leopards are similar to smaller cats as they are arboreal; many smaller arboreal cats show similar adaptations to the clouded leopard and none of the other big cats are arboreal. This hypothesis is supported by most phylogenies created thus far, as they show that the clouded leopard is less closely related to the other big cats (Lion, Tiger, Leopard, Jaguar, Snow Leopard and Longdan Tiger) than they are to each other (King and Wallace 2014), (Lynam et al. 2013), (Collier & O’brien 1985). Studies have shown that the clouded leopard separated from the Panthera lineage approximately 6 million years ago (Yu & Zhang). It is now classified as a separate genus: Neofelis. Recent analysis based on mtDNA, nuclear DNA sequences, microsatellites, fixed chromosomal differences and morphological variation has suggested that Bornean Clouded leopards should be reclassified as a separate species N. diardi or the Sunda Clouded leopard (Lynam et al. 2013).
Sunda clouded leopard, image copyright Wikimedia Commons.
PATTERNS OF RADIATION AND NICHE OCCUPATION
Variation in the camouflage patterns displayed on the flanks of many felids have been shown to be related to their ecology. The clouded leopard, which has a strong preference for an arboreal tropical forest habitat, exhibits more irregular coat patterns. These aspects of patterning are evolutionary labile, suggesting that felids have radiated rapidly to fill new and diverse niches (Allen et al). This result seems to lend support for ideas proposed by Lynam et al. (2013). The clouded leopard is sympatric with several other species of cat (such as the leopard Panthera pardus and the leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis). This results in resource partitioning, which causes differential niche occupation. Clouded leopards may have radiated rapidly to fill available niches in order to minimize competition for prey with these other cats.
OTHER MORPHOLOGICAL ADAPTATIONS