Great Lakes boreal wolf
|Great Lakes boreal wolf|
|Gray wolf (C. lupus)|
|Eastern wolf (C. lycaon)|
|Species:||C. lupus x C. lycaon|
Great Lakes boreal wolf is an informal term used to describe hybrids between North American gray wolves, eastern wolves and possibly coyotes in the forests surrounding the Great Lakes. Introgression of gray wolf genes into Canadian populations of eastern wolves has occurred across eastern Manitoba, northern and eastern Ontario, and into southwestern Quebec. In the United States, gray wolves have also introgressed into the eastern wolf populations that once inhabited the western Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Introgressions of coyotes into eastern wolf populations have also occurred in southern Ontario, Quebec, and all over the eastern Great Lakes states. While gray wolves in the northern states rarely mate with coyotes, it was long suspected that the eastern wolves which mixed with the gray wolves in the boreal forests may have also had coyote introgressions from past hybridizations with earlier coyote populations, resulting in transmittal of coyote genes into the modern day Great Lakes boreal wolves, which in turn further introduce these coyote and eastern wolf genes into other gray wolf populations.
The boreal wolf is 25% larger than a pure eastern wolf, and typically has a similarly-colored gray-fawn coat but, unlike the eastern wolf, can also be black, cream, or white. It also specialises on larger prey such as moose and caribou rather than white-tailed deer. Unlike pure eastern wolves, Great Lakes boreal wolves primarily inhabit the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, a transition zone between boreal forests to the north and deciduous forests to the south.
The taxonomy of the Great Lakes boreal wolf has long been affected by two controversial theories surrounding the origin of both the eastern wolf and eastern coyote. Because the Great Lakes region is a sympatric range for Great Plains gray wolves, eastern wolves, and coyotes, many North American mammalian biologists have questioned the level of wolf and coyote genes present in these Great Lakes wolves. Studies of the molecular-genetic literature on these wolves have been interpreted differently, which has given rise to two disparate schools of thought: one group has argued that the animals are hybrids between western gray wolves and eastern wolves, the other that the animals derive from an extinct Pre-Columbian coyote population and a unique population of ecotype gray wolves. The latter group asserts that the eastern wolf is a genetically distinct subspecies of the gray wolf with mild coyote introgression. Evolutionary biologists who analyzed 48,000 single nucleotide polymorphism detected patterns of gray wolf and coyote admixture in the Great Lakes boreal wolves and thus interpreted these findings as evidences of ancient hybridizations between gray wolves and coyotes. This study also analyzed the region's sympatric eastern coyotes, believing that they may had partially influenced the Great Lakes wolf gene pools, and concluded that they are also hybrids of wolves and coyotes but have higher levels of coyote influences as well as a small touch of domestic introgression from dogs. Those who were critical of the genome research's interpretation, however, re-analyzed the data and compared them to samples taken from eastern wolves in Algonquin Provincial Park. This study rebutted the gray wolf-coyote hybridization theory and found that some of the gray wolf genes were also admixed with notable eastern wolf markers. They interpreted the coyote-like haplotypes as eastern wolf DNA that derives from a possible common North American coyote-like ancestry but the lead authors were hesitant to make any conclusions on the taxonomy at the time due to the small sample size collected from the Algonquin populations which rendered their analysis insufficient during a 2014 peer review by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Because of the controversy, Minnesotan wolf biologist Dr. L. David Mech decided to conduct an artificial hybrid experiment to test the conflicting hybrid theories through artificially inseminating notable northwestern gray wolf sperms into pure coyotes. The result created seven hybrids, six of which survived into adulthood, and whose behaviours and admixed-genetic information will be used for comparisons with eastern wolves and Great Lakes boreal wolves in the future.
However, subsequent analysis on mtDNA, autosomal and sex chromosomes suggests that the wolves in the Great Lakes forests are actually hybrids of all three Canis species. Since pure gray wolves in the wild rarely interbreed with pure coyotes, it is suspected that earlier hybrids between gray and eastern wolves from the western Great Lakes forests may had hybridized with later hybrids between eastern wolves and coyotes on the eastern half, thus forming the modern day hybrids in the Great Lakes region. A follow up journal by Dr. Linda Y. Rutledge from the Trent University compared the molecular biology of the Great Lakes boreal wolves' mtDNA and nuclear autosomes to a larger sample taken from eastern wolves in 2015 concluded that the Great Lakes boreal wolves originated from hybridizations between western gray wolves and eastern wolves and that the latter are responsible for bridging coyotes genes between the former and also transferring gray wolf genes into the eastern coyotes. Likewise, the eastern coyote's genomes were also re-analysed by North American mammalian biologist Dr. Javier Monzón in response to the controversial theories surrounding the animals in the Great Lakes region. Using tissues samples and SNP chips extracted from 425 eastern coyotes from various regions in the northeastern USA compared with eastern wolf and gray wolf controls, Monzón concluded that the eastern coyotes in the northeastern states also share a common hybrid origin with the wolves of the Great Lakes but with a twist. They are a smaller four-in-one hybrid whose allele is composed 64% of western coyotes, 26% being a cluster of eastern wolves and western gray wolves, and 10% domestic dogs, implicating that there may have been multiple swarms of genetic exchanges between the coyotes, feral dogs, and the two wolf species present in the Great Lakes region. He also stated that the wolf content is usually higher in rural populations as well as in forests of higher white-tailed deer densities.
- Rutledge, L.Y.; Garroway, C.J.; Loveless, K.M.; and Patterson, B.R.; Genetic differentiation of eastern wolves in Algonquin Park despite bridging gene flow between coyotes and grey wolves, Heredity 1-12 (Macmillan, 2010).
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- Rutledge, L. Y. (May 2010). Evolutionary origins, social structure, and hybridization of the eastern wolf (Canis lycaon), [thesis], Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
- Monzón, J; Kays, R; Dykhuizen, DE (Jan 2014). "Assessment of coyote-wolf-dog admixture using ancestry-informative diagnostic SNPs.". Mol Ecol. 23: 182–97. doi:10.1111/mec.12570. PMC . PMID 24148003.
- Great Lakes boreal wolf (Canis lupus x lycaon), Wolf and Coyote DNA Bank @ Trent University