A new study shows that there is only one wolf species in North America.
Contrary to the previous belief that there were three sub-species of wolves living in North America, the study shows that two of the species, the eastern wolf and the red wolf, are actually gray wolves crossed with coyotes.
The history of wolves in North America is interesting and complicated at the same time. When European settlers arrived in North America, wolves were scattered across the continent. However, like most predators, they were almost completely eradicated by farmers and ranchers.
In the 1970s, gray wolves and red wolves were protected under the Endangered Species Act and populations returned around the Great Lakes and in the Rockies. In 2013, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service recognized the eastern wolf as a separate species which led to the delisting of the gray wolf.
The latest study, printed in the journal Science Advances, and conducted by Dr. Bridgett M. vonHoldt of Princeton University, looked at the genomes of “12 gray wolves, six Eastern wolves, three red wolves and three coyotes, as well as the genomes of dogs and wolves from Asia.”
What they found was that red wolves, eastern wolves, and gray wolves share many of the same genes. Eastern wolves were found to be about half wolf and half coyote, while red wolves were 75 percent coyote and 25 percent wolf.
Dr. Robert K. Wayne, who participated in the study, said, “We put things in baskets, but it doesn’t work that way in nature. We need to have a hybrid policy.”
It’s unclear how these new findings will affect protections currently in place for red and eastern wolves.