Relationships and genetic purity of the endangered Mexican wolf based on analysis of microsatellite loci

Jaime García-Moreno, Majorie D. Matocq, Michael S. Roy, Eli Geffen, Robert K. Wayne*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), an endangered subspecies of gray wolf, was native to parts of Mexico and the southwestern United States. Currently, only a few individuals, if any, exist in the wild, so planned reintroduction programs must use captive-raised wolves. In only one captive population, however, designated the certified lineage, are all the founders (n = 4) known to be obtained from a wild population of Mexican wolves. Two captive populations were founded from individuals of uncertain ancestry and have not been included in the species survival plan. To preserve genetic diversity and reduce inbreeding so that fitness will be maintained, it would be desirable to include these two captive populations in the breeding program if it could be shown that they were derived from a wild population similar to the certified lineage. We compared allele frequencies of 10 hypervariable microsatellite loci in Mexican gray wolves with those found in a sample of 42 domestic dogs, 151 northern gray wolves, and 142 coyotes to determine if uncertified Mexican wolves had specific markers from these animals. We analyzed pairwise genetic distance measures to demonstrate that the three captive populations of Mexican gray wolves were closely related to each other and distinct from dogs and northern gray wolves. The three captive populations are genetically more similar to each other than to any other population of dog or wolf-like canid, and they shared alleles that were rare in other canids. The genetic distance between them is similar to that between closely spaced populations of northern gray wolves. As a group, moreover, they are the most genetically distinct population of North American gray wolf. Therefore, the three captive populations could potentially be interbred to augment the genetic diversity of the certified lineage. Source individuals for reintroduction should be derived from the captive Mexican wolf population rather than populations of captive or wild northern gray wolves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)376-389
Number of pages14
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1996


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