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Keywords:

  • Canis;
  • conservation genetics;
  • coyote;
  • hybridization;
  • wolf

Empirical studies demonstrate that natural hybridization in animals is more common than thought so far (Mallet 2005), particularly among species that originated recently through cycles of population contraction–expansion arising from climate changes over the last glacial period, the Pleistocene. In addition, the post-glacial global growth of human populations has fostered anthropogenic hybridization events, mediated by habitat changes, the persecution of large predators and the introduction of alien species (Allendorf et al. 2001). The Canis lineage shows cases of both natural and anthropogenic hybridization, exacerbating the controversy about the number of species that should be formally validated in the taxonomic lists, the evolutionary role of genetic introgression and the ways to manage hybrids with invading wild or domesticated populations. The study by Wheeldon et al. (2010), published in this issue of Molecular Ecology, adds a new piece to the intricate puzzle of evolution and taxonomy of Canis in North America. They show that sympatric wolves (C. lupus) and coyotes (C. latrans) are not (extensively) hybridizing in the western North American Great Lakes region (GLR). Widespread hybridization between coyotes and a genetically distinct, but closely related, wolf-like population (the eastern wolf) occurred in the northeastern regions of North America. In Wheeldon et al.’s (2010) opinion, these data should prove definitely that two different species of wolf (the western gray wolf C. lupus and the eastern wolf C. lycaon) and their hybrids are distributed across the GLR.