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A Future for Red Wolves May Be Found on Galveston Island

posted Apr 9, 2019, 8:42 PM by chloe owens   [ updated Apr 9, 2019, 8:44 PM ]

12/11/2018, by Kelley Christensen, Phys Org

A future for red wolves may be found on Galveston Island

Red wolves, once nearly extinct, again teeter on the abyss. New research finds red wolf ancestry on Galveston Island—providing opportunities for additional conservation action and difficult policy challenges…During this ongoing debate of how to recover the red wolf, a team of researchers including Michigan Technological University scientist Kristin Brzeski, assistant professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, discovered high amounts of red wolf ancestry in canids living on Galveston Island in southeast Texas. "Our discovery that red wolf genes have persisted in Texas—after being declared extinct in the wild—was very surprising," Brzeski said. "It introduces both positive opportunities for additional conservation action and difficult policy challenges." Brzeski and her coauthors published their findings, "Rediscovery of Red Wolf Ghost Alleles in a Canid Population Along the American Gulf Coast" Dec. 10, 2018 in the journal Genes. The researchers obtained tissue samples from two roadkill canids on Galveston Island and conducted analyses with genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism and mitochondrial DNA from 60 animals that represented all potential sources of ancestry for the Galveston Island canids: coyotes, red wolves and gray wolves. Brzeski and others found that the Galveston Island canids have both red wolf and coyote alleles, likely related to species interbreeding during the 1970s as coyote populations expanded across North America. The Galveston Island animals—known as admixed canids—do not share all alleles with contemporary red wolves, but they are genetically closer to red wolves than they are to coyotes…"Our discovery opens up a new chapter in their story: red wolf ancestry has persisted independently without focused management action. How will this impact recovery efforts? Can we recover extinct genes through selective breeding with newly identified admixed canids? Are these individuals legally listable under the Endangered Species Act?" Brzeski said. "These are all difficult but exciting questions that are broadly important beyond red wolves that will influence wildlife conservation in an era of major climate and landscape change."