Hybridization between wild species and their domestic counterparts may represent a major threat to natural populations. However, high genetic similarity between the hybridizing taxa makes the detection of hybrids a difficult task and may hinder attempts to assess the impact of hybridization in conservation biology. In this work, we used a combination of 42 autosomal microsatellites together with Y-chromosome microsatellite-defined haplotypes and mtDNA sequences to investigate the occurrence and dynamics of wolf–dog hybridization in the Iberian Peninsula. To do this, we applied a variety of Bayesian analyses and a parallel set of simulation studies to evaluate (i) the differences between Iberian wolves and dogs, (ii) the frequency and geographical distribution of hybridization and (iii) the directionality of hybridization. First, we show that Iberian wolves and dogs form two well-differentiated genetic entities, suggesting that introgressive hybridization is not a widespread phenomenon shaping both gene pools. Second, we found evidence for the existence of hybridization that is apparently restricted to more peripheral and recently expanded wolf populations. Third, we describe compelling evidence suggesting that the dynamics of hybridization in wolf populations is mediated by crosses between male dogs and female wolves. More importantly, the observation of a population showing the occurrence of a continuum of hybrid classes forming mixed packs may indicate that we have underestimated hybridization. If future studies confirm this pattern, then an intriguing avenue of research is to investigate how introgression from free-ranging domestic dogs is enabling wolf populations to adapt to the highly humanized habitats of southern Europe while still maintaining their genetic differentiation.
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