(ORDO NEWS) — The red wolf today is close to extinction: there are only a few hundred individuals in the world, and the genetic diversity of the entire population is extremely low.
A possible way to solve this problem was found by geneticists who studied tissue samples of coyotes from the southeastern United States: it turned out that about a third of their genome is red wolf genes.
The population of the red wolf ( Canis rufus ) in North America was rapidly declining until the middle of the 20th century: this predator was exterminated for attacks on domestic animals, like its larger brother, the gray wolf ( Canis lupus ). Only in 1967, the species was declared endangered, after which measures were taken to restore its numbers.
Today, there are only about 220 red wolves in the world, and in the wild the species is completely extinct: all current red wolves are descendants of 14 individuals kept in captivity. Not surprisingly, the genetic diversity of the population is extremely low, and conservationists are desperately looking for ways to increase it.
Now it looks like there is a chance to do so, thanks to the study of the genomes of coyotes ( Canis latrans ) living in the southeastern United States, where the red wolf once lived. The two species have copulated many times in the past, and today’s coyotes carry enough red wolf genes to help save the endangered species.
The study showed that from 38 to 62 percent of the genome of the studied coyotes (there were 31 in total) is represented by red wolf genes, and individuals with the largest number of wolf genes differed from their counterparts in large size, color and behavioral features.
In other words, by selecting such “wolf coyotes”, scientists can cross them with surviving red wolves in order to return the “lost” genes to the population.
Perhaps when red wolves are released into the wild in the future, researchers will try to select for this area where the largest number of hybrid coyotes live. This will diversify the genome of animals and save them from genetic degeneration.
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