A new study has discovered that the only distinct species of wolves indigenous to North America is the gray wolf. Scientists discovered that the other species are just hybrids because they mated with coyotes and their origins are traced back to the gray wolf.
The study was published this Wednesday, in the journal of Science Advances, and manages to crown the gray wolf as the new genetically purebred wolf species living in North America. The previous prevalent theories were that other species of wolf living in America, like the red wolf found in the south of the United States and the eastern wolf from central Ontario, are distinct species as well.
According to Robert Wayne, the senior author, evolutionary biologist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles:
“We found that the red wolves are about 75% coyote ancestry, and the eastern wolf has more gray wolf ancestry, about 75%.”
The research team analyzed genomes from 12 pure gray wolves that lived in areas without coyotes, three coyotes from areas without gray wolves, six eastern wolves and three red wolves. They were hoping to find genetic material that wasn’t either of gray wolf or coyote origin, and thus it could be considered to belong distinctly to the red or eastern wolf. Unfortunately, the scientists didn’t found anything that could not be traced back to the gray wolf and the coyote.
The results of their research have serious implications regarding the preservation efforts of the gray and red wolf.
In the 1970s, after the gray was almost hunted down to near extinction, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decided to list it as a threatened species needed to be protected by the Endangered Species Act. The red wolf is also protected under this act.
Recently, the USFWS suggested that the gray wolf is not an endangered species any longer and should be removed from the list. The new study’s result might help the gray wolf maintain its protected status while at the same facilitate the removal of the red wolf from the list of endangered species as it is a hybrid and US law doesn’t protect hybrids.
Do you think that both species of wolf should maintain their protected status or not?
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