Ancient hybridization key to domestic dog’s origin, wolf conservation efforts
There are four to five wild species of Canis in North America, according to the overview. In addition to the well-known grey wolf and coyote, there is a secondary wild population of the domestic dog known as the Carolina dog, plus a few populations of hybrid origin with different proportions of wolf and coyote genes. Two of these hybrid populations, the red wolf of the eastern U.S. and the Algonquin wolf–also known as the Eastern or timber wolf–of southeastern Canada, have already evolved into full species. What is still unknown is whether they should be considered two different species or one species with two living subspecies.
The whole concept of “species” should be reconsidered before any such decision is made.
“Both red wolf and Algonquin wolf are critically important components of North American ecosystems and must be protected and restored,” Dinets said. “The Carolina dog, which is also critically endangered, also deserves protection in its small natural range; it is a descendant of the first dogs brought to North America by humans at the end of the last ice age.”
The overview helps debunk claims that the red wolf is not a real species and thus not worthy of protection, he said, noting that there are persistent attempts to kill red wolf reintroduction programs.
Dinets added that the critically endangered Carolina dog currently has no legal protection and animal control services treat Carolina dogs as strays and kill them. Most zoologists have not heard of it. More.
Hmmm. Some of us would urge careful study of projects like “red wolf reintroduction programs.”
Ecologies are systems in motion. That is, they change. If the hybrid red wolf’s typical diet in the wild is, for example, rodents and carrion, and the wolf is re-introduced into what is now cottage country, its diet could become vacationing urban dogs and cats.
Local humans, who depend on the income provided by urban cottagers, won’t be overly happy. So the reasonable local conservationist could end up in the middle of a big no-win conflict that draws attention away from efforts that are more likely to succeed, like preserving shoreline breeding habitats for game fish (which keep up income and property values).
All such projects must consider the present ecology, not what it might have been a millennium ago. And hybridization may make some claims about speciation moot. That is, what happened once could very well just happen again.
See also: The kitty monster! (a hybrid)
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