June 3, 2011
A new genetic study finds that wolves in the eastern United States and Canada are actually hybrids of gray wolves and coyotes, while the area's coyotes are wolf-coyote-dog hybrids, according to a recent Associated Press (AP) report.
The research advances a long-standing debate over the origins of two endangered species -- the red wolf, Canis rufus, in North Carolina and the eastern Canadian wolf, Canis lycaon, in Ontario.
The author's of the current study concluded that these hybrid wolves developed relatively recently, over the last few hundred years. However, some scientists believe the wolves evolved from an ancient eastern wolf species distinct from the larger gray wolf, Canis lupus, found in western North America. They say the current study is interesting but does not explain why hybrids appear only in some places. Furthermore, western wolves don't hybridize with coyotes but often kill them, they say.
In the current study, a team of 16 international scientists, led by Robert Wayne of the University of California-Los Angeles, used data from the dog genome to assess the genetic diversity in dogs, wolves and coyotes. The research was the most intensive genetic study of any wild vertebrate species to date, using sophisticated molecular genetic techniques to examine more than 48,000 markers throughout the entire genome, study co-author Roland Kays, curator of mammals at the New York State Museum, told AP.
In the West, wolves were pure wolf, while in the western Great Lakes, they were 85 percent wolf and 15 percent coyote, on average. Wolves in Algonquin Park in eastern Ontario averaged 58 percent wolf, the study found. The endangered red wolf in North Carolina was found to be 24 percent wolf and 76 percent coyote. Northeastern coyotes, which only colonized the region in the past 60 years, were found to be 82 percent coyote, 9 percent dog and 9 percent wolf.
The study was published online earlier this month in the peer-reviewed journal Genome Research
Reprinted in part from redorbit.com