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Polyphyletic ancestry of historic gray wolves inhabiting U.S. Pacific states


Given the recent re-colonization of gray wolves (Canis lupus) to the Pacific northwest, USA, and subsequent migration into northern California, understanding how well natural migration has restored historic diversity can inform management decisions. In this study, we report the mitochondrial DNA control region haplotypes of nine museum specimens that curators identified as C. lupus from Oregon, Nevada, and California. Among the nine samples currently available for genetic analysis of historic genetic diversity of C. l. spp. in the U.S. Pacific states, we found six previously described haplotypes including two domestic dog (C. l. familiaris) haplotypes. Notably, we present the first evidence of Mexican wolf (C. l. baileyi) ancestry in southern California while the northern Californian specimen, as well as one individual from Nevada, present a haplotype common to wolves from the historic American West and extant Canadian wolf populations. Finally, the three Oregon specimens shared a haplotype that is only observed in extant wolves from coastal British Columbia (the “coastal rainforest” wolf ecotype), indicating that the historical range of this haplotype reached as far south as southwestern Oregon. In conclusion, our results indicate that the genetic composition of historic wolf populations in the Pacific northwest and southwest states was polyphyletic and included wolves that share maternal ancestry with current populations from adjacent regions. These findings, in addition with future nuclear analyses, reveal more accurate historic range delimitations, which is critical information when designing appropriate management plans for wolves naturally re-colonizing the U.S. Pacific northwest and southwest regions.

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We are thankful to Eileen Lacey and Chris Conroy of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ), University of California Berkeley for giving us access to their collection. We acknowledge financial support from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. We are grateful to Ryan Harrigan for proofreading earlier versions of this manuscript and to three reviewers for comments.

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Correspondence to Sarah A. Hendricks.

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Hendricks, S.A., Charruau, P.C., Pollinger, J.P. et al. Polyphyletic ancestry of historic gray wolves inhabiting U.S. Pacific states. Conserv Genet 16, 759–764 (2015).

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  • Canis lupus
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Museum samples
  • Historical range
  • Western United States