Wolves in British Columbia are More Distinctive Than Previously Thought

First Posted: Jun 10, 2014 01:21 PM EDT

Wolves aren't all the same, and some apparently have more differences than scientists once thought. They've found that British Columbia's mainland wolves and coastal wolves are far more distinctive than previously believed.

The researchers analyzed DNA samples from wolf scats collected in the field. They found significant genetic differentiation, which they attributed to the profoundly different ecological environments that the wolves lived in. On group of lives thrived on coastal islands, which offered the wolves more marine-based foods. Over time, these coastal wolves bred more frequently with one another and less frequently with their deer-loving relatives on the mainland.

"What makes this study special is the fact that differentiation is not supposed to occur on such a small scale," said Erin Navid, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Wolves are highly mobile animals, capable of crossing many types of natural barriers, including small bodies of water. We did not expect to uncover a genetic gradient in an area that is only 2,000 square kilometers and relatively permeable to wolf movement."

The findings show the importance of incorporating DNA research into ecological perspectives. By understanding genetic differences between populations, researchers can better aid conservation efforts in the region.

"An emerging mutual recognition is that although indigenous and scientific approaches constitute different paths to knowledge, they are rooted in the same reality and provide complementary information," said Paul Paquet, one of the researchers, in a news release.

This new research could greatly aid with conservation challenges, and could help with landscape conservation-especially when it comes to the detailed information about the habits of animals across space.

The findings are published in the journal BMC Ecology.

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