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Highly carnivorous wolves in Alaska killed by global warming

Highly carnivorous wolves in Alaska killed by global warming

Highly carnivorous wolves in Alaska killed by global warming

June 21, 2007

Researchers have identified a previously unknown species of “highly carnivorous” wolf in Alaska that appears to have died off during the Pleistocene extinction some 12,000 years ago. The results are published in the June 21 online issue of Current Biology.

The researchers, led by Jennifer Leonard of the Smithsonian Genetics Program and Uppsala University in Sweden, “extracted mitochondrial DNA from the fossil wolf bones and compared the sequences, called haplotypes, with those of modern-day wolves in Alaska and throughout the world,” according to a release from the Smithsonian. Unexpectedly, the fossils showed was no overlap with modern wolves.

“We thought possibly they would be related to Asian wolves instead of American wolves because North America and Asia were connected during that time period. That they were completely unrelated to anything living was quite a surprise,” said Leonard.

The results suggest that the Alaskan wolves went extinct without leaving modern descendents. Alaska’s current wolf population likely came from other parts of the United States.

While the cause of Pleistocene extinction is debated–climate change, human hunters, and extraterrestrial impact are all seen as leading, and possibly interacting, candidates–there is little doubt that the disappearance of mega-fauna in Alaska would have been detrimental to the specialized wolves.

“When their prey disappeared, these wolves did as well,” Leonard said. But the results of this study also imply that the effects of the extinction were broader than previously thought. “There may be other extinctions of unique Pleistocene forms yet to be discovered.”

CITATION: Jennifer A. Leonard, Carles Vilà, Kena Fox-Dobbs, Paul L. Koch, Robert K. Wayne, and Blaire Van Valkenburgh (2007). Megafaunal Extinctions and the Disappearance of a Specialized Wolf Ecomorph. Current Biology 10.1016/j.cub.2007.05.072

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