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Northern Coyote/Coywolf Taxonomy and Admixture: A Meta-Analysis

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A flurry of recent papers have attempted to taxonomically characterise eastern canids, mainly grey wolves Canis lupus, eastern wolves Canis lycaon or Canis lupus lycaon and northeastern coyotes or coywolves Canis latrans, Canis latrans var. or Canis latrans x C. lycaon, in northeastern North America. In this paper, we performed a meta-analysis on northeastern coyote taxonomy by comparing results across studies to synthesise what is known about genetic admixture and taxonomy of this animal. Hybridisation or cladogamy (the crossing between any given clades) be-tween coyotes, wolves and domestic dogs created the northeastern coyote, but the animal now has little genetic in-put from its parental species across the majority of its northeastern North American (e.g. the New England states) range except in areas where they overlap, such as southeastern Canada, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the mid-Atlantic area. The northeastern coyote has roughly 60% genetic influence from coyote, 30% wolf and 10% domestic dog Canis lupus familiaris or Canis familiaris. There is still disagreement about the amount of eastern wolf versus grey wolf in its genome, and additional SNP genotyping needs to sample known eastern wolves from Algonquin Pro-vincial Park, Ontario to verify this. Given its mixed species origin and morphological and genetic uniqueness, the most appropriate name for this animal is “coywolf’, which accounts for its two main genetic influences (i.e. coyotes and wolves) in portmanteau order; this name still applies even with the relatively small amount of dog introgression in its genome since dogs are essentially domesticated grey wolves and dog DNA is found in many other wild Canis species including grey wolf populations. It is important for managers to acknowledge that this animal was produced through cladogamy events —100 years ago, but there is now minimal recent admixture throughout most of its northeastern range. The fact that the coywolf is clearly morphologically and genetically different to any other de-scribed population of Canis should qualify the animal for species status. We suggest that they be scientifically classi-fied as Canis oriens, meaning “east”, or more specifically “eastern canid”, in Latin. This nomenclature gives them a distinct stand-alone name separating them from their parental Canis species/types and the associated relative amounts of latrans, lycaon, lupus, and domestic dog genes contributing to their hybrid background. Efforts should be made to monitor the southern wave of western coyote expansion converging with coywolves to document any genetic introgression that might take place between these closely related Canis and whether these two canids will remain distinct.

Document: Northeastern_coyote_taxonomy.pdf  PDF icon

Author(s): Jonathan G. Way and William S. Lynn

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