Thursday, July 28, 2016

Are Some Wolves in Danger of Losing Protected Status?

To the casual observer, one wolf might look the same as another but to those in the know, there are crucial differences between the various species of wolf. A recent study, however, suggests eastern and red wolves—previously thought to have different ancestry from other gray wolves—might be hybrids of gray wolves and coyotes. The potential hybrid nature of the wolves could pose a problem for how they are viewed by the Endangered Species Act (1973). It could also be the justification for keeping gray wolves on the protected list. Researchers from Princeton studied the genomes of a variety of wolves and coyotes. They found that eastern wolves are 3/4 gray wolf and ¼ coyote, while red wolves are a ¼ gray wolf and ¾ coyote. The study, funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, suggests that eastern wolves and red wolves are not separate from gray wolves as previously thought. The study also casts concern about the Endangered Species Act, which does not protect hybrid species. That’s because when it was passed, interbreeding wasn’t thought to be as common as it is now known to be. Although the results of this study contradict previous studies, the primary issue centers on the lack of protection of hybrid species. The red wolf, previously protected because it was thought to be a different species, could lose its protection. Or, if both the eastern and red hybrids are recognized and protected as gray wolves, their small numbers could help keep the overall gray wolf numbers low, which would ensure the gray wolf remains protected...more

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