Molecular and evolutionary history of melanism in Norths American gray wolves

Tovi M. Anderson, Bridgett Marie vonHoldt, Sophie I. Candille, Marco Musiani, Claudia Greco, Daniel R. Stahler, Douglas W. Smith, Badri Padhukasahasram, Ettore Randi, Jennifer A. Leonard, Carlos D. Bustamante, Elaine A. Ostrander, Hua Tang, Robert K. Wayne, Gregory S. Barsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

330 Scopus citations


Morphological diversity within closely related species is an essential aspect of evolution and adaptation. Mutations in the Melanocortin 1 receptor (Mc1r) gene contribute to pigmentary diversity in natural populations of fish, birds, and many mammals. However, melanism in the gray wolf, Canis lupus, is caused by a different melanocortin pathway component, the K locus, that encodes a beta-defensin protein that acts as an alternative ligand for Mc1r. We show that the melanistic K locus mutation in North American wolves derives from past hybridization with domestic dogs, has risen to high frequency in forested habitats, and exhibits a molecular signature of positive selection. The same mutation also causes melanism in the coyote, Canis latrans, and in Italian gray wolves, and hence our results demonstrate how traits selected in domesticated species can influence the morphological diversity of their wild relatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1339-1343
Number of pages5
Issue number5919
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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