Sequence analysis of the mitochondrial DNA control region from 112 southeastern US coyotes (Canis latrans) revealed 12 individuals with a haplotype closely related to those in domestic dogs. Phylogenetic analyses grouped this new haplotype in the dog/grey wolf (Canis familiaris/Canis lupus) clade with 98% bootstrap support. These results demonstrate that a male coyote hybridized with a female dog, and female hybrid offspring successfully integrated into the coyote population. The widespread distribution of this haplotype from Florida to West Virginia suggests that the hybridization event occurred long ago before the southeastern USA was colonized by coyotes. However, it could have occurred in the southeastern USA before the main front of coyotes arrived in the area between male coyotes released for sport and a local domestic dog. The introgression of domestic dog genes into the southeastern coyote population does not appear to have substantially affected the coyote's genetic, morphological, or behavioural integrity. However, our results suggest that, contrary to previous reports, hybridization can occur between domestic and wild canids, even when the latter is relatively abundant. Therefore, hybridization may be a greater threat to the persistence of wild canid populations than previously thought.
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