Disease outbreaks select for mate choice and coat color in wolves.
We know much about pathogen evolution and the emergence of new disease strains, but less about host resistance and how it is signaled to other individuals and subsequently maintained. The cline in frequency of black-coated wolves () across North America is hypothesized to result from a relationship with canine distemper virus (CDV) outbreaks. We tested this hypothesis using cross-sectional data from wolf populations across North America that vary in the prevalence of CDV and the allele that makes coats black, longitudinal data from Yellowstone National Park, and modeling. We found that the frequency of CDV outbreaks generates fluctuating selection that results in heterozygote advantage that in turn affects the frequency of the black allele, optimal mating behavior, and black wolf cline across the continent.