African golden wolf: scientists discover “new” species of canines | Biology
African and Eurasian golden jackals are genetically distinct lineages, according to a research team led by Dr. Klaus-Peter Koepfli of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Dr. Robert Wayne of the University of California at Los Angeles.
“This is the first discovery of a ‘new’ species of canids in Africa in over 150 years,” said Dr Koepfli, first author of a study published in the newspaper Current biology.
The study was inspired by two recent reports suggesting that the African golden jackal was in fact a cryptic gray wolf subspecies. These studies were based on analysis limited to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).
“Two recent mtDNA-based studies reported that larger golden jackals from Ethiopia and North and West Africa were more closely related to gray wolves than to other populations of golden jackals. , suggesting that some populations of African golden jackals represent a cryptic gray wolf subspecies, designated the African wolf (Canis lupus lupaster)The scientists said.
“These results were consistent with previous findings based on morphological and zoogeographic evidence that had suggested the great jackals of Egypt (Canis aureus lupaster) were actually a small subspecies of gray wolf.
To expand the DNA evidence in the new study, Dr Koepfli, Dr Wayne and their colleagues collected and analyzed DNA samples from golden jackals collected twenty years ago in Kenya.
“To our surprise, the little East African golden jackal was actually a small variety of a new species, distinct from the gray wolf, which has a distribution in North and East Africa,” he said. said Dr Wayne.
Scientists named this hitherto unknown species the African golden wolf (Canis anthus).
They suspect that taxonomists confused African and Eurasian golden jackals with the same species due to a high degree of similarity in the morphology of their skulls and teeth.
However, genetic data supports the idea that they are in fact two separate lineages that have evolved independently for at least a million years.
In fact, the new canine family tree suggests that these two lineages are not even closely related. The African species is more closely related to the lineage leading to gray wolves and coyotes than to jackals, which explains their new designation of African golden wolves.
“Our nuclear DNA analyzes indicate that the African golden wolf line separated from the gray wolf and coyote clade approximately 1.0 to 1.7 million years ago during the Pleistocene,” said Researchers.
“More broadly, our phylogenetic analyzes suggest that wolf-like canids colonized Africa from Eurasia at least five times during the Pliocene and Pleistocene, which is consistent with fossil evidence suggesting that much of the diversity of the African canid fauna results from the immigration of Eurasian ancestors, probably coinciding with the climatic oscillations of the Plio-Pleistocene between the arid and humid conditions.
The discovery increases the overall biodiversity of canines – the group comprising dogs, wolves, foxes and jackals – from 35 living species to 36.
“We will continue to study the relationships between the golden jackal and wolf lineages in Africa, Eurasia and the Middle East,” the scientists said.
Klaus-Peter Koepfli et al. Genome-wide evidence reveals that African and Eurasian golden jackals are distinct species. Current biology, published online July 30, 2015; doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2015.06.060