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Wolves in wolves' clothing are not all the same: Environments change the genes

It's possible wolves can cross into Northern California again from where some are currently just over the border in Oregon, since new wolves have been born to a new wolf family just over the border in Oregon. A few years ago when OR7 trekked into Northern California, he left a scent trail. That same scent trail can be followed again by OR7 's pups and/or mate, right into California. See, "Meet wolf OR7's new pups; California moves to protect species."

 Different environments can change the genes of wolves.
Photo credit: Guillaume Mazille. A coastal wolf of the islands in the Great Bear Rainforest shows off a favorite menu item. Wolves in wolves' clothing not all the same.

That's why Californians have become more interested in studies of different genetic structures and personalities of all types of wolves in North America. And so, the studies continue on wolf genes and behavior. You also may wish to check out, "Story of Wolf OR-7 - California Department of Fish and Wildlife." California has a wolf breeding population in a national forest that straddles the Oregon-California border. When OR7's pups go off on their own, they will be following OR7’s tracks.

In the meantime, wolves in wolves' clothing are not all the same, says a new study, "Population genetic structure of gray wolves (Canis lupus) in a marine archipelago suggests island-mainland differentiation consistent with dietary niche," appearing online June 10, 2014 in the journal BMC Ecology.

University of Calgary researchers reveal surprising genetic differences among wolves in coastal British Columbia. New research co-authored by University of Calgary alumna Erin Navid provides evidence that British Columbia's mainland wolves and coastal wolves are more distinct than previously believed.

The research affirms what Chester Starr, an elder from the Heiltsuk First Nation on BC's remote west coast, and his people have always known: 'Timber Wolves' occupy the mainland of the British Columbia coast and 'Coastal Wolves' live on the nearby islands. Starr's insight provided motivation for the study.

"What makes this study special is the fact that differentiation is not supposed to occur on such a small-scale," says Navid, according to the June 10, 2014 news release, "Wolves in wolves' clothing not all the same." Navid graduated from the Faculty of Environmental Design, Environmental Science Program in 2009. "Wolves are highly mobile animals, capable of crossing many types of natural barriers, including small bodies of water. We did not expect to uncover a genetic gradient in an area that is only 2,000 square kilometres and relatively permeable to wolf movement."

The authors attribute the observed genetic differentiation to the profoundly different ecological environments

Coastal islands offer wolves more marine-based foods, such as salmon and marine mammals—preferences that are passed on from generation to generation. Over time, coastal wolves bred more frequently with one another and less frequently with their deer-loving relatives on the mainland.

Navid analyzed DNA samples from wolf scats collected in the field as part of her masters' thesis in the Faculty of Environmental Design. The discovery also emphasizes the importance of incorporating traditional ecological perspectives with empirical scientific methods.

"An emerging mutual recognition is that although indigenous and scientific approaches constitute different paths to knowledge, they are rooted in the same reality and provide complementary information," says co-author Paul Paquet, according to the news release. Paquet is an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary.

These approaches are useful in addressing today's conservation challenges and opportunities. In this particular study, efforts at landscape conservation can be informed by detailed information about the habits of animals across space. For further information, you may wish to check out the abstract of this study, published online June 10, 2014 in the journal BMC Ecology. "Population genetic structure of gray wolves (Canis lupus) in a marine archipelago suggests island-mainland differentiation consistent with dietary niche."