A study out last year reported that the eastern and red wolves of North America are not distinct species, but are instead hybrids between the coyote and gray wolf. However, a new analysis in Science Advances argues that the data doesn't support that conclusion.
In 2016, researchers from US, China, and Israel sequenced the genomes of 28 canids, including wolves, coyotes, jackals, and domestic dogs. They reported in Science Advances at that time that eastern and red wolves did not have unique ancestries, but instead harbored differing amounts of both gray wolf and coyote ancestry.
However, a technical comment from researchers at the University of Idaho and elsewhere now appearing in Science Advances argues that while the sequencing data does reveal hybridization, it does not support a recent hybrid origin. Instead, they say the data is consistent with a number of evolutionary scenarios and that it didn't directly test alternate models of the wolves' origins.
"The history of these species is complex and certainly contains evidence for hybridization in the past. The question is timing," Idaho's Paul Hohenlohe, the lead author of the comment, says in a statement.
"In fact, the data are consistent with red and eastern wolves having a long evolutionary history as distinct lineages," he adds.
This, he and his colleagues note, has implications for conservation policy.