Duluth, Minn. DNA analysis of a road-killed wild cat, as well as
hair and scat samples collected in northern Minnesota has revealed
the first scientifically documented interbreeding between Canada
lynx and bobcat.
Three samples have been identified as hybrids, all resulting
from a female lynx breeding with a male bobcat. The samples came
from separate locations in northeastern Minnesota. The first was a
road-killed cat found in western Lake County at Knife River. The
other two were located along the Sawbill Trail in Cook County and
west of Hibbing in Itasca County.
Ed Lindquist, wildlife biologist for the Superior National
Forest, asked for additional DNA testing on the road-killed animal,
because it appeared to have characteristics of lynx and bobcat. A
new DNA test had to be developed to discern the animal’s
The testing was done at the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain
Research Station wildlife genetics lab in Missoula, Montana. Dr.
Michael Schwartz, leader of the genetics laboratory, designed the
test to detect hybridization between lynx and bobcats.
The range of the two wild cats overlaps in northern Minnesota.
Bobcats are widely distributed in the southern two-thirds of North
America, while lynx are found in northern boreal forests and alpine
areas. While few lynx were seen in Minnesota during the 1980s and
’90s, in recent years their population seems to have increased,
perhaps due to an upswing in their population cycle. Bobcat numbers
also seem to be at a high point, because state trappers and hunters
registered more than 500 harvested cats this year.
In 2002, Canada lynx in parts of the Lower 48 states, including
Minnesota, were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species
Act. Beginning in the winter of 2001-02, volunteers began
back-tracking wild cat tracks in the snow to collect hair and scat
samples for DNA analysis, a project that continued this winter.
Since the volunteer effort was spear-headed by Lindquist and the
U.S. Forest Service, most of the collecting has occurred on or near
the Superior National Forest.
Lindquist says sample collection was successful last winter and
that he received reports of lynx sightings from outside the
Superior National Forest that volunteers investigated. There have
been unverified lynx reports in Wisconsin and Michigan. Beginning
this year, sample collection procedures will be set up for national
forests in those states.
Whether the knowledge of hybridization will affect lynx
conservation efforts is unknown, though researchers intend to
analyze bobcat and lynx samples from other places where the two
species overlap. Researchers from the Northern Resources Research
Institute in Duluth have placed radio collars on two Minnesota lynx
and are following their movements. They hope to capture and collar
more lynx this summer.