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Keywords:

  • Canis lupus;
  • genetic drift;
  • immigration;
  • loss of genetic variability;
  • microsatellites;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • population decline

Abstract

The grey wolf (Canis lupus) was numerous on the Scandinavian peninsula in the early 19th century. However, as a result of intense persecution, the population declined dramatically and was virtually extinct from the peninsula by the 1960s. We examined historical patterns of genetic variability throughout the period of decline, from 1829 to 1979. Contemporary Finnish wolves, considered to be representative of a large eastern wolf population, were used for comparison. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variability among historical Scandinavian wolves was significantly lower than in Finland while Y chromosome variability was comparable between the two populations. This may suggest that long-distance migration from the east has been male-biased. Importantly though, as the historical population was significantly differentiated from contemporary Finnish wolves, the overall immigration rate to the Scandinavian peninsula appears to have been low. Levels of variability at autosomal microsatellite loci were high by the early 1800s but declined considerably towards the mid-20th century. At this time, approximately 40% of the allelic diversity and 30% of the heterozygosity had been lost. After 1940, however, there is evidence of several immigration events, coinciding with episodes of marked population increase in Russian Karelia and subsequent westwards migration.