A Genome-Wide Perspective on the Persistence of Red Wolf Ancestry in Southeastern Canids.
The red wolf (Canis rufus), a legally recognized and critically endangered wolf, is known to interbreed with coyotes (Canis latrans). Declared extirpated in the wild in 1980, red wolves were reintroduced to northeastern North Carolina nearly a decade later. Interbreeding with coyotes was thought to be restricted to a narrow geographic region adjacent to the reintroduced population and largely believed to threaten red wolf recovery. However, red wolf ancestry was recently discovered in canids along the American Gulf Coast, igniting a broader survey of ancestry in southeastern canid populations. Here, we examine geographic and temporal patterns of genome-wide red wolf ancestry in 260 canids across the southeastern United States at over 164 000 SNP loci. We found that red wolf ancestry was most prevalent in canids sampled from Texas in the mid-1970s, although non-trivial amounts of red wolf ancestry persist in this region today. Further, red wolf ancestry was also observed in a subset of coyotes inhabiting North Carolina, despite management efforts to limit the occurrence of hybridization events. Lastly, we found no evidence of substantial red wolf ancestry in southeastern canids outside of these 2 admixture zones. Overall, this study provides a genome-wide survey of red wolf ancestry in canids across the southeastern United States, which may ultimately inform future red wolf restoration efforts.