Genetic and morphometric analysis of sixteenth century Canis skull fragments: implications for historic eastern and gray wolf distribution in North America
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- Rutledge, L.Y., Bos, K.I., Pearce, R.J. et al. Conserv Genet (2010) 11: 1273. doi:10.1007/s10592-009-9957-2
Resolving the taxonomy and historic ranges of species are essential to recovery plans for species at risk and conservation programs that aim to restore extirpated populations. In eastern North America, planning for wolf population restoration is complicated by the disputed historic distributions of two wolf species: the Old World-evolved gray wolf (Canis lupus) and the New World-evolved eastern wolf (C. lycaon). We used genetic and morphometric data from 4- to 500-year-old Canis samples excavated in London, Ontario, Canada to help clarify the historic range of these two wolf species in the eastern temperate forests of North America. We isolated DNA and sequenced the mitochondrial control region and found that none of the samples were of gray wolf origin. Two of the DNA sequences corresponded to those found in present day coyotes (C. latrans), but morphometric comparisons show an eastern wolf, not coyote, origin. The remaining two sequences matched ancient domestic dog haplotypes. These results suggest that the New World-evolved eastern wolf, not the gray wolf, occupied this region prior to the arrival of European settlers, although eastern-gray wolf hybrids cannot be ruled out. Furthermore, our data support the idea of a shared common ancestry between eastern wolves and western coyotes, and that the distribution of gray wolves at this time probably did not include the eastern temperate forests of North America.