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Distinctions blur between wolf species

Blending of coyotes, grays leads to muddled canine identities

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2:00pm, July 27, 2016
wolves

MIXED UP  Eastern wolves (second from left) and red wolves (second from right) might be better described as mixtures between gray wolves (far left) and coyotes (far right) rather than distinct species, a new genetic analysis suggests.

Wolves are having something of an identity crisis. Gray wolves and coyotes might be the only pure wild canine species in North America, a new genetic analysis suggests. Other wolves — like red wolves and eastern wolves — appear to be blends of gray wolf and coyote ancestry instead of their own distinct lineages.

Red wolves contain about 75 percent coyote genes and 25 percent wolf genes, an international team of scientists reports online July 27 in Science Advances. Eastern wolves have about 25 to 50 percent coyote ancestry.

That finding adds another twist to the ongoing battle over wolf protection and regulation in the United States: how to protect a population that’s not its own species but carries valuable genetic information.

Gray wolves used to roam much of North America — until they were hunted to near-extinction. Protection under the Endangered Species Act has

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