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It Turns Out the United States Has Just One True Species of Wolf

Environment  (tags: Wolves, Relisting, ESA, environment, animals, research, science, protection, habitat, endangered, wildlife, nature, politics )

- 701 days ago -
On the other hand, the study could actually help gray wolves maintain their ESA protection: Because the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed eastern wolves as having a range that overlapped with gray wolves

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tanya r (1)
Friday August 12, 2016, 2:02 am
noted, thanks

roxy H (350)
Friday August 12, 2016, 2:11 am
It turns out the United States has just one true species of wolf

According to research published Thursday in Science Advances, red wolves and eastern wolves aren't truly wolves at all – they're coyote-wolf hybrids. That confirms something scientists had long debated: Canis lupus, the gray wolf, is actually the only wolf species in the United States. Neither the red nor the eastern wolf has any DNA that can't be tied to gray wolf or coyote origins. All three "species" are actually just gray wolf descendants with varying levels of coyote DNA.

[Climate change may have driven dog evolution]

The red wolf is actually mostly coyote, according to the study, with just around a quarter of its genes coming from the gray wolf. The eastern wolf is 25 to 50 percent coyote, and even gray wolves carry some small traces of coyote interbreeding in their DNA (in much the same way that many humans carry small percentages of Neanderthal DNA today).

The study also found that gray wolves and coyotes are much more closely related than previously assumed. While previous research had suggested that the two species had diverged around 1 million years ago, the new genetic analysis hints at a common ancestor 50,000 years ago.

Based on the traces of coyote DNA found even in "pure" wolves, the researchers suspect that these two closely-related species have frequently intermingled throughout the past few centuries. Gray wolves have become scarce in the United States – many populations have disappeared entirely – which made the remaining wolves more and more likely to pair up with coyotes as time went on. And as these hybrid creatures interbred with one another instead of with pure wolves, their coyote-like genes and characteristics became more prominent, giving them the appearance of an entirely new species.

[Neanderthal hybrid suggests modern humans bred with them much later than thought]

The findings could have disastrous implications for the canines. The red wolf is currently protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but the ESA doesn't protect hybrids.

“People think that species should be genetically pure, that there should be tidy categories for ‘wolf’ and ‘coyote.’ That’s not what we found,” lead author Bridgett vonHoldt, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University, told Science Magazine. Instead of leaving the red wolf to its own devices, she and her colleagues say, conservationists should rethink their treatment of hybrids. They believe the eastern wolf should be protected as well, coyote genes be darned.

[To save big cats from extinction, scientists say we need to redefine ‘tiger’]

"Our findings demonstrate how a strict designation of a species under the ESA that does not consider genetic admixture can threaten the protection of endangered species," vonHoldt said in a statement. "We argue for a more balanced approach that focuses on the ecological context of genetic admixture and allows for evolutionary processes to potentially restore historical patterns of genetic variation."

On the other hand, the study could actually help gray wolves maintain their ESA protection: Because the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed eastern wolves as having a range that overlapped with gray wolves, the latter's protection was at risk of being thrown away on a technicality. For now, the FWS has reportedly declined to comment on the new findings – so there's no way of knowing which way the wind will blow for gray wolves and their hybrid cousins.

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Animae C (516)
Friday August 12, 2016, 7:40 am
TY Roxy

Mitchell D (88)
Friday August 12, 2016, 1:34 pm
Very interesting!

Sierra D (20)
Saturday August 13, 2016, 4:01 am
(¯`´¯) ✰

Razzbarry F (26)
Saturday August 13, 2016, 6:15 am
cool :)

Lisa M (18)
Saturday August 13, 2016, 8:28 am
Thanks for sharing!

Lucia A (16)
Saturday August 13, 2016, 8:43 am
Noted, thank you for sharing.

Peggy B (43)
Saturday August 13, 2016, 12:51 pm
Interesting article TYFS

Sheryl G (360)
Saturday August 13, 2016, 6:24 pm
Interesting and important information to keep this wolf from also going into extinction.

Lois Jordan (63)
Sunday August 14, 2016, 3:24 pm
Noted. Thanks for posting, Roxy.

Wendi M (9)
Monday August 15, 2016, 3:09 pm
TYFS Noted
Amazing Creatures hopefully they will receive their Classification to preserve them

Barb SiteIssues V (202)
Wednesday August 17, 2016, 8:22 am
Noted, Thank you

June M (139)
Saturday August 20, 2016, 2:23 pm
noted/ thanks roxy

Krystal R (120)
Sunday August 21, 2016, 12:40 pm
You have been asked MANY TIMES TO STAY AWAY from following Dandelion and Roxy!
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