May 28, 2023

Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) Variation of Wolves ( Canis lupus ) in Southeast Alaska and Comparison with Wolves, Dogs, and Coyotes in North America


There is considerable interest in the genetics of wolves (Canis lupus) because of their close relationship to domestic dogs(C. familiaris) and the need for informed conservation and management. This includes wolf populations in Southeast Alaska for which we determined genotypes of 305 wolves at 173 662 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) loci. After removal of invariant and linked SNP, 123 801 SNP were used to quantify genetic differentiation of wolves in Southeast Alaska and wolves, coyotes (C. latrans), and dogs from other areas in North America. There is differentiation of SNP allele frequencies between the species (wolves, coyotes, and dogs), although differentiation is relatively low between some wolf and coyote populations. There are varying levels of differentiation among populations of wolves, including low differentiation of wolves in interior Alaska, British Columbia, and the northern US Rocky Mountains. There is considerable differentiation of SNP allele frequencies of wolves in Southeast Alaska from wolves in other areas. However, wolves in Southeast Alaska are not a genetically homogeneous group and there are comparable levels of genetic differentiation among areas within Southeast Alaska and between Southeast Alaska and other geographic areas. SNP variation and other genetic data are discussed regarding taxonomy and management.

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Study: Coyotes in Areas of High Deer Density are Genetically More Wolf-Like


The evolutionary importance of hybridization as a source of new adaptive genetic variation is rapidly gaining recognition. Hybridization between coyotes and wolves may have introduced adaptive alleles into the coyote gene pool that facilitated an expansion in their geographic range and dietary niche. Furthermore, hybridization between coyotes and domestic dogs may facilitate adaptation to human-dominated environments. We genotyped 63 ancestry-informative single nucleotide polymorphisms in 427 canids in order to examine the prevalence, spatial distribution, and ecology of admixture in eastern coyotes. Using multivariate methods and Bayesian clustering analyses, we estimated the relative contributions of western coyotes, western and eastern wolves, and domestic dogs to the admixed ancestry of Ohio and eastern coyotes. We found that eastern coyotes form an extensive hybrid swarm, with all our samples having varying levels of admixture. Ohio coyotes, previously thought to be free of admixture, are also highly admixed with wolves and dogs. Coyotes in areas of high deer density are genetically more wolf-like, suggesting that natural selection for wolf-like traits may result in local adaptation at a fine geographic scale. Our results, in light of other previously published studies of admixture in Canis, reveal a pattern of sex-biased hybridization, presumably generated by male wolves and dogs mating with female coyotes. This study is the most comprehensive genetic survey of admixture in eastern coyotes and demonstrates that the frequency and scope of hybridization can be quantified with relatively few ancestry-informative markers.

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