There is a major difference between ‘breed’ and ‘species’. The domestic cat is a species of cat and in the family of cats is called Felidae. There are about 36 species of cat, all of which are wild except for the domestic cat, which is a domesticated African-Asian wildcat.
A cat breed is a type of domestic cat which has been created by cat breeders working in the cat fancy. All cat breeds are the same species of cat namely the domestic cat.
“Different species have evolved naturally while different breeds have been created artificially”…MikeB
So, the domestic cat, as a species, is a higher classification than the breeds. The concept of the classification of the animal species including the cats is called taxonomy. People decided that they had to place all the world’s animals and plants into certain distinct types so they spent centuries classifying the planet’s flora and fauna. It is an ongoing project. DNA analysis has significantly aided the process and changed the classifications, often reducing the number of species.
The formal breeding of small cats in an organised way under the auspices of the administrators of the cat fancy – the cat associations – has been around for about 150 years. And everything they do is artificial selection. It is called selective breeding. There are two reasons why cats are selectively bred.
All the cat breeds have been carved out of one species: the domestic cat. Each breed is distinguishable from the others. It has to be otherwise it would not be a breed.
The way they make the breeds noticeably different is by picking up a spantaneous genetic mutation which makes, for example, the cat hairless (Sphynx) or gives them floppy ears (Scottish Fold) and refining that look. Another way is by taking standard moggies with interesting features and constantly inbreeding them so the special features are enhanced and fixed. Once again this is the purpose of selective breeding or artificial selection as opposed to natural selection which occurs in the wild as described by Charles Darwin.
The species of animal that is the domestic cat is the umbrella classification for all the breeds as per the illustration. Different species have evolved naturally while different breeds have been created artificially. Humans intervened to create breeds. Nature was left alone to create species.