Population genomic analysis of North American eastern wolves (Canis lycaon) supports their conservation priority status

Elizabeth Heppenheimer, Ryan J. Harrigan, Linda Y. Rutledge, Klaus Peter Koepfli, Alexandra L. Decandia, Kristin E. Brzeski, John F. Benson, Tyler Wheeldon, Brent R. Patterson, Roland Kays, Paul A. Hohenlohe, Bridgett Marie vonHoldt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The threatened eastern wolf is found predominantly in protected areas of central Ontario and has an evolutionary history obscured by interbreeding with coyotes and gray wolves, which challenges its conservation status and subsequent management. Here, we used a population genomics approach to uncover spatial patterns of variation in 281 canids in central Ontario and the Great Lakes region. This represents the first genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) dataset with substantial sample sizes of representative populations. Although they comprise their own genetic cluster, we found evidence of eastern wolf dispersal outside of the boundaries of protected areas, in that the frequency of eastern wolf genetic variation decreases with increasing distance from provincial parks. We detected eastern wolf alleles in admixed coyotes along the northeastern regions of Lake Huron and Lake Ontario. Our analyses confirm the unique genomic composition of eastern wolves, which are mostly restricted to small fragmented patches of protected habitat in central Ontario. We hope this work will encourage an innovative discussion regarding a plan for managed introgression, which could conserve eastern wolf genetic material in any genome regardless of their potential mosaic ancestry composition and the habitats that promote them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number606
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics


  • Canine
  • Conservation genomics
  • Geographic isolation
  • Restriction-site associated DNA
  • Spatial structure


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