• canids;
  • hybridization;
  • microsatellites;
  • population genetics;
  • red wolves

Genetic data suggest that red wolves (Canis rufus) resulted from a hybridization between coyotes (C. latrans) and grey wolves (C. lupus). The date of the hybridization, however, is uncertain. According to one hypothesis, the two species came into contact as coyotes increased their geographical range in conjunction with the advance of European settlers and as grey wolves were extirpated from the American south. Alternatively, the red wolves could have originated tens of thousands of years ago as a result of climate and habitat changes that disturbed the ecology of the two parent species. To obtain an upper limit on the date of hybridization that would help to distinguish the two scenarios, we compared microsatellite allele length distributions from red wolves, coyotes and grey wolves. Subject to the assumptions of our analysis, we conclude that the red wolves originated as a result of hybridizations that occurred during the past 12 800 years, and probably during the past 2500 years.