Loopy, a threat to the crossing species with domesticated dogs

The genetic integrity of the Italian wolf is increasingly threatened by crossbreeding with domestic dogs. Recent studies have shown this in collaboration with the Sapianza University in Tuscan-Emilian Apennine National Park in Rome, the Higher Institute for Research and Environmental Protection (ESPRA) and the Center National de la Recherche Scientific (France). Published in The Journal of Wildlife Management.

The result of millennia of strong human selection of domestic dogs and breeding isolation from wolves. Over time, the dog has developed a more appropriate form and behavior for human needs and is deeply different from its wild ancestors. From a biological point of view, dogs and wolves belong to the same species and under certain conditions they can mate and produce fertile hybrids. Although occasional wolf hybridization has occurred since the inception of dog breeding, the fear today is that the phenomenon is increasing strongly due to the spread of wolves in more man-made areas, where the population ratio is largely in favor of the dog population.

“From the first rare sightings of hybrids in the 70’s and 80’s, the phenomenon was largely underestimated in subsequent years – explained Paolo Siuki, of the Department of Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Sapienza in Rome, as the research coordinator. In addition, there have been studies to date that have actually determined the amount of hybridization between dogs and wolves according to population parameters and adequate statistical models, while the tools available to us today allow us to make more accurate estimates. “

Based on 152 collected samples, 39 wolves in 7 different packs related to it, Researchers estimate hybridization prevalence at 70%, Hybrid individuals are present in at least 6 of the 7 observed flocks. Furthermore, hereditary reconstruction has ensured that hybrids in at least two of these breeds enjoy the status of breeders and are therefore able to transmit genetic variants of dog origin to the next generation.

Although the presence in the case of hybridization was originally assumed, if we consider the potential negative effects that genes of canine descent may have on wild wolves for survival, the results of the study highlight a worrying situation for species conservation and to preserve its genetic identity.

“Thanks to a network of collaborators with complementary skills, which has allowed us to apply adequate sampling techniques, together with formal methods of population estimation and especially efficient genetic diagnosis techniques, in our work we have created accurate estimates of events on a local scale.” The first author, Nina Santostasi, adds that the results we have found emphasize how the alleged behavioral reproductive barrier between dogs and wolves or the loss of genes of canine descent in the wolf population should not occur – insufficient sunlight to prevent hybridization and spread in wolf populations. In all likelihood, this situation is not limited to the area in which we have worked, and it is essential to immediately replicate similar studies in other areas of the species range.

The results of the study highlight the importance of not ignoring the phenomenon and using all the best skills and management skills to protect the genetic integrity of the wolf. But not only that, there is a need to raise awareness about the risks of genomic extinction. “This is a much more difficult concept to understand and share than the risk of population extinction, when, in the early 1970s, Italy stated that it was in favor of legal protection of the species – Ciucci concludes – paradoxically, 50 years later, This is the same genetic identity of the wolf that is at risk As a result of the widespread mobility of the breed, high numbers of stray dogs and inertia of management “.

The genetic techniques that researchers use to identify hybrids, using DNA derived from wolf droppings, have been developed at the Research and Environmental Protection Institute’s (ISpra) Conservation Genetics Laboratory, which has been active in this field for several years.

The prevalence of hybrids has been estimated in the wolf population living in the Tuscan-Emilian Appenine National Park and in the vicinity of North Appenines, a central and strategic area for wolf distribution in Apennine, where Already noticed.

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