Wolf-Coyote-Dog hybrids are being found in much of the U.S., but not in the Western U.S.

Wolf-Coyote-Dog hybrids are being found in much of the U.S., but not in the Western U.S.

In order to resolve a debate over the history and origin of various Wolf populations in the U.S., researchers turned to genetic analysis. In recently published research, the scientists used molecular genetic techniques to look at over 48,000 markers throughout the full genome. The study showed a gradient of hybridization in wolves.

In the West, wolves were pure wolf, while in the western Great Lakes, they averaged 85 percent wolf and 15 percent coyote. Wolves in Algonquin Park in eastern Ontario averaged 58 percent wolf. The red wolf in North Carolina, which has been the subject of extensive preservation and restoration efforts, 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.

In research published last year, one of the coauthors of the study (and others) used museum specimens and genetic samples to show that coyotes migrating eastward bred with wolves to evolve into a larger form that has become the top predator in the Northeast, filling a niche left when native eastern wolves were hunted out of existence. The hybridization allowed coyotes to evolve from the scrawny mouse-eaters of western grasslands to robust deer-hunters in eastern forests.

Critics abound. One notes that the hybridization makes little sense since Wolves generally kill coyotes when the two encounter each other. Other critics questioned the size of the sample; others, the limited number of genetic markers examined in the analysis.

The study can be found at http://genome.cshlp.org/content/early/2011/05/12/gr.116301.110.abstract?sid=9c6c90b1-3b32-46de-9c13-3a76c6b4e2ae. For those interested in a greater level of detail, supplemental materials on the genetic analysis can be found at http://genome-mirror.bscb.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/hgGateway.