Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genotypes of gray wolves and coyotes from localities throughout North America were determined using restriction fragment length polymorphisms. Of the 13 genotypes found among the wolves, 7 are clearly of coyote origin, indicating that genetic transfer of coyote mtDNA into wolf populations has occurred through hybridization. The transfer of mtDNA appears unidirectional from coyotes into wolves because no coyotes sampled have a wolf-derived mtDNA genotype. Wolves possessing coyote-derived genotypes are confined to a contiguous geographic region in Minnesota, Ontario, and Quebec, and the frequency of coyote-type mtDNA in these wolf populations is high (>50%). The ecological history of the hybrid zone suggests that hybridization is taking place in regions where coyotes have only recently become abundant following conversion of forests to farmlands. Dispersing male wolves unable to find conspecific mates may be pairing with female coyotes in deforested areas bordering wolf territories. Our results demonstrate that closely related species of mobile terrestrial vertebrates have the potential for extensive genetic exchange when ecological conditions change suddenly.
Additional publication details
Introgression of coyote mitochondrial DNA into sympatric North American gray wolf populations