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Research Brief: Red Wolves Are Recent Hybrids of Gray Wolves and Coyotes

By Virginia Morell

A study of the complete genomes of 28 canids reveals that despite differences in body size and behavior, North American gray wolves and coyotes are far more closely related than previously believed, and only recently split into two lineages. Furthermore, the endangered red and eastern wolves are not unique lineages with distinct evolutionary histories, but relatively recent hybrids of gray wolves and coyotes, the scientists report online this week in Science Advances. And that may be a problem, because the Endangered Species Act doesn’t explicitly protect hybrid animals.

Read the article: Rethinking the North American Wolf (Science)

Virginia Morrell is a contributing correspondent to National Geographic Magazine and Science Magazine. She has published several books, including ANIMAL WISE: How We Know Animals Think and Feel (Crown, 2013, a New York Times Bestseller) and BLUE NILE (National Geographic Adventure Press, 2001, a “San Francisco Chronicle” Best Travel Book of the Year). She is also serves on the advisory board of the National Geographic Expeditions Council.