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Keywords:

  • cline;
  • coyotes;
  • eastern wolves;
  • generalized additive mixed models;
  • hybrid zone;
  • hybridization

Abstract

Eastern wolves have hybridized extensively with coyotes and gray wolves and are listed as a ‘species of special concern’ in Canada. However, a distinct population of eastern wolves has been identified in Algonquin Provincial Park (APP) in Ontario. Previous studies of the diverse Canis hybrid zone adjacent to APP have not linked genetic analysis with field data to investigate genotype-specific morphology or determine how resident animals of different ancestry are distributed across the landscape in relation to heterogeneous environmental conditions. Accordingly, we studied resident wolves and coyotes in and adjacent to APP to identify distinct Canis types, clarify the extent of the APP eastern wolf population beyond the park boundaries and investigate fine-scale spatial genetic structure and landscape–genotype associations in the hybrid zone. We documented three genetically distinct Canis types within the APP region that also differed morphologically, corresponding to putative gray wolves, eastern wolves and coyotes. We also documented a substantial number of hybrid individuals (36%) that were admixed between 2 or 3 of the Canis types. Breeding eastern wolves were less common outside of APP, but occurred in some unprotected areas where they were sympatric with a diverse combination of coyotes, gray wolves and hybrids. We found significant spatial genetic structure and identified a steep cline extending west from APP where the dominant genotype shifted abruptly from eastern wolves to coyotes and hybrids. The genotypic pattern to the south and northwest was a more complex mosaic of alternating genotypes. We modelled genetic ancestry in response to prey availability and human disturbance and found that individuals with greater wolf ancestry occupied areas of higher moose density and fewer roads. Our results clarify the structure of the Canis hybrid zone adjacent to APP and provide unique insight into environmental conditions influencing hybridization dynamics between wolves and coyotes.