Is black coat color in wolves of Iran an evidence of admixed ancestry with dogs?
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Melanism is not considered a typical characteristic in wolves of Iran and dark wolves are believed to have originated from crossbreeding with dogs. Such hybrid individuals can be identified with the combined use of genetic and morphological markers. We analyzed two black wolves using a 544 base pairs (bp) fragment of the mtDNA control region and 15 microsatellite loci in comparison with 28 dogs, 28 wolves, and four known hybrids. The artificial neural networks (ANNs) method was applied to microsatellite data to separate genetically differentiated samples of wolves, dogs, and hybrids, and to determine the correct class for the black specimens. Individual assignments based on ANNs showed that black samples were genetically closer to wolves. Also, in the neighbor-joining network of mtDNA haplotypes, wolves and dogs were separated, with the dark specimens located in the wolf branch as two separate haplotypes. Furthermore, we compared 20 craniometrical characters of the two black individuals with 14 other wolves. The results showed that craniometrical measures of the two black wolves fall within the range of wolf skulls. We found no trace of recent hybridization with free-ranging dogs in the two black wolves. Dark coat color might be the result of a natural combination of alleles in the coat-color-determining gene, mutation in the K locus due to past hybridization with free-ranging dogs, or the effect of ecological factors and adaption to habitat conditions.
KeywordsBlack wolf Hybridization mtDNA Microsatellite Artificial neural networks
This research was supported financially by the Iran Department of Environment, Hamedan Provincial Office. We thank Ali Shaabani, Vahid Nouri, and Shahabaddin Montazami for their help. The authors also thank the anonymous referees for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this article.
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