UA study: Mexican wolves did not interbreed with dogs
Arizona Department of Game and Fish
The endangered Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) has overcome challenges ranging from near extinction to political feuds. Now a genetic study is determining whether wolves may have interbred with dogs.
The Journal of Heredity study could affect the future conservation and management of wolves.
Once distributed throughout the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, Mexican wolves were hunted, trapped, and poisoned to the brink of extinction in 1976, when the federal government listed them as a protected species under the US Endangered Species Act.
Since then, captive breeding programs have grown Mexican wolves from three captive groups totaling seven genetic “founders” to a population of around 100, reintroduced to the recovery areas of Arizona and New Mexico.
But recovery and protection have met with opposition from pastoralists and their political allies, who see wolves as a danger to livestock.
Following attempts to group Mexican wolves together with their more populous cousin, the gray wolf (which itself is listed as endangered and threatened in some areas), researchers have established that the Mexican wolf is its own. subspecies, eligible for protection.
More recently, jurisdictions like Apache County have justified removing some of these protections by claiming that wolves have interbred with dogs, producing a “wolf-dog hybrid”.
“There were anecdotal reports about it, they can be mixed with domestic dogs, and they had certain traits that looked like domestic dogs. So, that was kind of still on everyone’s mind. “said Bob Fitak, now a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University, who conducted the research as part of his thesis at the University of Arizona.
Mexican wolves are smaller than other North American wolves. Their skulls are different and their coats are distinctive. Previous studies examining these factors, combined with smaller-scale genetic testing, already suggested that no crossbreeding had occurred.
Now, by analyzing 172,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms – simple one-letter changes in the DNA bases that scientists use as biomarkers and to establish heredity – Fitak and his colleagues believe they have solved the question.
“It’s not that we can’t find any genetic variation that seems to come from a dog. The question is, what we find that looks like a dog is probably due to sharing a dog ancestor, you know, several thousand years ago. “