Molecular genetics of pre-1940 red wolves

Michael S. Roy, Eli Geffen, Deborah Smith, Robert K. Wayne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conservation of the endangered red wolf (Canis rufus) bas become a controversial issue because its genetic and morphological composition has been altered by hybridization with coyotes (C. latrans) and possibly gray wolves (C. lupus) making its evolutionary origins difficult to ascertain. The evolutionary hypothesis based on morphological data is that the red wolf had an Early Pleistocene origin and was the predecessor of both modern coyotes and gray wolves. After 1940 red wolves hybridized with coyotes as the species vanished from the wild. In contrast to this ancient origin-recent introgression hypothesis, molecular data are more consistent with an origin through hybridization between gray wolves and coyotes. Interspecific hybridization may have occurred repeatedly over time prior to European settlement in the southcentral United States or may have been induced recently by anthropogenic changes. We review recent molecular evidence and present new results from the analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA markers in Pre-1940 populations of red wolves. Our results are inconsistent with an ancient origin of the red wolf and support the hybridization model. We discuss possible hybridization scenarios and reasons for the red wolf reintroduction program to be concerned with the effects of genetic introgression from coyotes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1413-1424
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1996


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