Reviving ghost alleles: Genetically admixed coyotes along the American Gulf Coast are critical for saving the endangered red wolf.
The last known red wolves were captured in southwestern Louisiana and eastern Texas in 1980 to establish a captive breeding population. Before their extirpation, gene flow with coyotes resulted in the persistence of endangered red wolf genetic variation in local coyote populations. We assessed genomic ancestry and morphology of coyotes in southwestern Louisiana. We detected that 38 to 62% of the coyote genomes contained red wolf ancestry acquired in the past 30 years and have an admixture profile similar to that of the canids captured before the extirpation of red wolves. We further documented a positive correlation between ancestry and weight. Our findings highlight the importance of hybrids and admixed genomes as a reservoir of endangered species ancestry for innovative conservation efforts. Together, this work presents an unprecedented system that conservation can leverage to enrich the recovery program of an endangered species.