Coyotes with Red Wolf Ancestry on Galveston Island, Texas
Nov 17, 2022 07:23 ET
Hybridization can be a conservation concern if genomic introgression leads to the loss of an endangered species’ unique genome, or when hybrid offspring are sterile or less fit than their parental species. Yet hybridization can also be an adaptive management tool if rare populations are inbred and have reduced genetic variation, and there is the opportunity to enhance genetic variation through hybridization. The red wolf (Canis rufus) is a critically endangered wolf endemic to the eastern United States, where all extant red wolves are descended from 14 founders which has led to elevated levels of inbreeding over time. Red wolves were considered extirpated from the wild by 1980, but before they disappeared, they interbred with encroaching coyotes creating a genetically admixed population of canids along coastal Texas and Louisiana. In 2018, a genetic study identified individuals on Galveston Island, Texas with significant amounts of red wolf ancestry. We collected 203 fecal samples from Galveston for a more in-depth analysis of this population to identify the amount of red wolf ancestry present and potential mechanisms that support retention of red wolf ancestry on the landscape.
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