Dog's Origins are in Ancient Hybridization: How Man's Best Friend Evolved

First Posted: Sep 03, 2015 09:49 AM EDT

How did man's best friend actually become the dog we know and love today? Scientists have taken a closer look at the evolutionary history of the domestic dog and have found that ancient hybridization was key to the origins of the dog.

The relationships between dogs, wolves and jackals are complicated and controversial. There are countless alternative ideas on their composition and the number of species, both of which can be difficult to track.

In this latest study, the researchers found that domestic dogs are descendants of two interbred species: a small extinct wild dog of Asia and the grey wolf. Different breeds have different proportions of wolf blood, and that can explain a lot about their personalities and behavior.

There are four to five wild species of Canis in North America. In addition to the well-known grey wolf and the coyote, there is a secondary wild population of the domestic dog known as the Carolina dog, plus a few populations of hybrid origin with different proportions of wolf and coyote genes. Two of these hybrid populations, the red wolf of the eastern U.S. and the Algonquin wolf of southeastern Canada, have evolved into full species.

"Both red wolf and Algonquin wolf are critically important components of North American ecosystems and must be protected and restored," said Vladimir Dinets, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The Carolina dog, which is also critically endangered, also deserves protection in its small natural range; it is a descendent of the first dogs brought to North America by humans at the end of the last ice age."

The findings help debunk claims that the red wolf is not a real species. In addition, it reveals a bit more about dog evolution.

The findings are published online.

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