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Whole-genome sequence analysis shows that two endemic species of North American wolf are admixtures of the coyote and gray wolf

Author(s): vonHoldt, Bridgett M.; Cahill, James A.; Fan, Zhenxin; Gronau, Ilan; Robinson, Jacqueline; et al

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Abstract: Protection of populations comprising admixed genomes is a challenge under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is regarded as the most powerful species protection legislation ever passed in the United States but lacks specific provisions for hybrids. The eastern wolf is a newly recognized wolf-like species that is highly admixed and inhabits the Great Lakes and eastern United States, a region previously thought to be included in the geographic range of only the gray wolf. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has argued that the presence of the eastern wolf, rather than the gray wolf, in this area is grounds for removing ESA protection (delisting) from the gray wolf across its geographic range. In contrast, the red wolf from the southeastern United States was one of the first species protected under the ESA and was protected despite admixture with coyotes. We use whole-genome sequence data to demonstrate a lack of unique ancestry in eastern and red wolves that would not be expected if they represented long divergent North American lineages. These results suggest that arguments for delisting the gray wolf are not valid. Our findings demonstrate how a strict designation of a species under the ESA that does not consider admixture can threaten the protection of endangered entities. We argue for a more balanced approach that focuses on the ecological context of admixture and allows for evolutionary processes to potentially restore historical patterns of genetic variation.
Publication Date: 27-Jul-2016
Electronic Publication Date: 27-Jul-2016
Citation: vonHoldt, BM, Cahill, JA, Fan, Z, Gronau, I, Robinson, J, Pollinger, JP, Shapiro, B, Wall, J, Wayne, RK. (2016). Whole-genome sequence analysis shows that two endemic species of North American wolf are admixtures of the coyote and gray wolf. Science Advances, 2 (7), e1501714 - e1501714. doi:10.1126/sciadv.1501714
DOI: doi:10.1126/sciadv.1501714
EISSN: 2375-2548
Pages: e1501714 - e1501714
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Science Advances
Version: Final published version. This is an open access article.

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