A Rare Breed


When wolves mate with dogs, the wolf is usually a female and the dog a male. But in PLoS ONE, scientists say they have found the first known wolf-dog hybrids in Europe whose parents are a male wolf and female dog.

As people and their pets take over more land, wild animals are increasingly likely to mate with domesticated animals. That trend presents a problem for conservation, since the genetic mixing could weaken the wild species. Managers are especially concerned about wolves, which have dwindled in Europe and often come into contact with dogs.

The researchers found two animals in Latvia and six in Estonia that looked like wolf-dog hybrids. The Latvian animals had “unusual yellow coats with curly fur,” the authors write, and the Estonian animals had dark or yellow coloring not generally seen on wolves. To find out if the animals were truly hybrids, the team analyzed DNA from the eight animals and from wolves and dogs.

The genetic tests confirmed the animals’ mixed ancestry. But surprisingly, the Latvian animals appeared to be “an extremely rare case of hybridization between a female dog and a male wolf,” the team writes. The genders are usually reversed, perhaps because dogs avoid the larger, more aggressive male wolves or because female wolves seek out male dogs for mating.

To limit hybridization, people should not allow their dogs to run free while wolves are mating, the authors say. Reducing hunting would also put less pressure on wolves to mate outside their species. Roberta Kwok | 9 October 2012

Source: Hindrikson, M. et al. 2012. Bucking the trend in wolf-dog hybridization: First evidence from Europe of hybridization between female dogs and male wolves. PLoS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046465.

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