The gray wolf is the only native species of wolf in North America, as the genomes of coyotes, red wolves and eastern wolves are not unique.
The study was performed by the Princeton-UCLA University, and it had been published in the Science Advances journal. Based on their findings, the authors recommend the US Fish and Wildlife Service modifying their strategy and expand the protection to the hybrid species.
The Endangered Species Act is currently applied only to pure species. The scientists would like it to extend to cross-species mating too. The study raised a debate surrounding the terms of conservation.
“We found no evidence for an eastern wolf that has a separate evolutionary legacy. The gray wolf should keep its endangered species status and be preserved because the reason for removing it is incorrect. The gray wolf did live in the Great Lakes area and the 29 eastern states,” said Robert Wayne, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
The conflicts with the ranchers, the loss of habitat, and hunting almost exterminated the wolf population in the United States.
The gray wolves started to be a protected species ever since 1973. In 2013, the eastern wolf was considered to be a separate species. There is a possibility that the eastern wolves are the original predators in America, which sets out a scenario where the gray wolves’ population might have been overprotected.
The conservationists opposed the change of plans. Thus the gray wolf population was not de-listed.
The study involves the genetic analysis of 12 gray wolves, three coyotes, six eastern wolves and three red wolves, all of which were selected to be as pure as possible.
The results showed that the genome of the eastern wolves was 75% gray wolf and 25% coyote, while the red wolves had a genome resembling more to the coyote and have almost no genetic material of their own.
An evolutionary biologist explains that the gray wolves and the coyotes began to mate in the late 1920s. The coyotes and the gray wolves interbred a couple of centuries earlier and created the red wolf.
Until now, the red wolves were considered to be a different species and thus benefited from numerous recovery programs of millions of dollars worth. The process protected them from complete extinction, even though the legitimacy of the action is now put under question.
The Endangered Species Act adopted almost 50 years ago when the biologist’s considered species are interbreeding to be rare. They also thought that the resulting specimens of the mating were unhealthy.
The current study contradicts the theory and makes the experts request a change in the conservation act which would include the hybrid species.
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