|Taxidermy exhibit of an eastern wolf killed on February 10, 1907 in Washtenaw County, MI.|
|Modern range of North American Canis|
Canis lupus lycaon
The eastern wolf (Canis lycaon), also known as the Great Lakes wolf, Algonquin wolf or deer wolf2 is a canid native to the northeastern side of North America's Great Lakes region.3 It is a medium-sized species which, like the red wolf, is of a reddish-brown coloration and is intermediate in size between the coyote and gray wolf. It primarily preys on white-tailed deer, but may occasionally attack moose and beaver.45
The eastern wolf's taxonomic identity has been the subject of controversy, with numerous different theories having been presented as to its origin, including that it is a subspecies of gray wolf,1 that it is conspecific with the red wolf,67 that it is a result of gray wolf-coyote hybridization,8 and that it is a unique species.69 As of 2005[update],1 the eastern wolf is still recognized as a gray wolf subspecies by MSW3, though was classed as a distinct species by United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 after a comprehensive review of several genetic studies. These studies indicate that the eastern wolf evolved in North America, unlike the gray wolf which originated in Eurasia, and diverged from a common ancestor with the coyote and red wolf 150,000–300,000 years ago.9
It is currently listed as Special Concern under the Canadian Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) and with the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO), on account of its extensive hybridization with both gray wolves and coyotes. The eastern wolf is particularly susceptible to hybridization, due to its close relationship to the coyote and its ability to bridge gene flow between both coyotes and gray wolves. Furthermore, human persecution over a period of 400 years caused a population decline which reduced the number of suitable mates, thus facilitating coyote gene swamping into the eastern wolf population. Aside from posing a threat to a unique species, the resulting eastern wolf-coyote hybrids are too small in size to substitute pure eastern wolves as apex predators of moose and deer. The main nucleus of pure eastern wolves is currently concentrated within Algonquin Provincial Park.10
The eastern wolf was first recognized as a distinct species in 1775 by German naturalist Johann Schreber, who termed it loup noir (black wolf). His depiction of the animal however showed it with a black coat, an atypical coloration in eastern wolves. It was later reclassified as a subspecies of gray wolf by Edward Nelson and Goldman.9 In 2000, the taxonomic status of the eastern wolf was once again brought into question when a genetic study on canids from Algonquin Provincial Park undertaken in Trent University showed that the local wolves bore similarities to red wolves, based on DNA profiles at eight microsatellite loci. Furthermore, sequences were found in both eastern and red wolves that diverged from those of coyotes by 150,000-300,000 years, and no specimens of either species from the 1960s bore any gray wolf mtDNA. The scientists involved in this study proposed that the eastern and red wolf were the same species, and that the two be combined under the earlier binomial name of C. lycaon.6 However, this conclusion was disputed, with one study indicating that the eastern wolf is a gray wolf-coyote hybrid8 and MSW31 listed it in 2005 as a subspecies of gray wolf.
In May 2011, an analysis of eastern wolf, red wolf, gray wolf, and dog genomes suggested that the wolves of Algonquin Provincial Park are 58% gray wolf and 42% coyote, suggesting that the eastern wolf is a coywolf with more gray wolf content than the red wolf. This study analyzed 48,000 SNP and found no evidence for a unique eastern wolf species.11 In 2012, re-analysis of the 2011 SNP study argued that the original SNP study suffered from insufficient sampling and noted that gray wolves do not mate with coyotes.10 Another Y-chromosome genetic study in 2012 also argued that the eastern wolf and red wolf are not hybrids but rather are a distinct species from the gray wolf, although eastern and red wolves do intermix with coyotes.12 The same authors have argued that the 2011 SNP study finding that eastern wolves are not an independent species is flawed and that historical hunting and culling of wolves, leading to invasion of coyotes into eastern North America, has led to introgression of coyote mitochondrial and nuclear DNA into fragmented, decimated eastern wolf packs.10 They and other authors have postulated that large populations of eastern and red wolves with intact social/pack structures are less likely to interbreed with coyotes.13 The controversy over the eastern wolf's species status was the subject of a comprehensive review of the 2011 and 2012 genetics studies, which concluded that there are four separate species of Canis in North America, the eastern wolf, red wolf, gray wolf and coyote.9
Charles Darwin described the eastern wolf as being a lightly-built, greyhound-like animal that pursued deer, as opposed to the bulkier, shorter-legged gray wolf.14 The eastern wolf's fur is typically of a grizzled grayish-brown coloration mixed with cinnamon. The flanks and chest are rufous or creamy, while the nape, shoulder and tail region are a mix of black and gray. Unlike gray wolves, eastern wolves rarely produce melanistic individuals.2 The first documentend all-black eastern wolf was found to have been an eastern wolf-gray wolf hybrid.5 Like the red wolf, the eastern wolf is intermediate in size between the coyote and gray wolf, with females weighing 23.9 kilograms (53 lb) on average and males 30.3 kilograms (67 lb). Like the gray wolf, its average lifespan is 3-4 years, with a maximum of 15 years.4
The eastern wolf primarily targets small to medium-sized prey items like white-tailed deer and beaver, unlike the gray wolf which can effectively hunt large ungulates like caribou, elk, moose and bison.5 The average territory ranges between 110-185 km²,4 and the earliest age of dispersal for young eastern wolves is 15 weeks, much earlier than gray wolves.5
Before the arrival of Europeans, eastern wolves may have numbered at 64,500–90,200 individuals.10 The earliest written records of the eastern wolf were in the writings of Jacques Cartier in 1535 and in Marc Lescarbot's Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (1609), where he wrote that the animal was common in Acadia.15 Prior to the establishment of Algonquin Provincial Park in 1893, the eastern wolf was common in central Ontario and the Algonquin Highlands. It continued to persist throughout the late 1800s, despite extensive logging and efforts by park rangers to eliminate it, largely due to the sustaining influence of plentiful prey items like deer and beaver. By the mid-1900s, there were as many as 55 eastern wolf packs in the Park,16 with an average of 49 wolves being killed annually between 1909–1958, until they were given official protection by the Ontario government in 1959, by which time the eastern wolf population in and around the Park had been reduced to 500–1000 individuals.1610 Nevertheless, between 1964–1965, 36% of the Park's wolf population was culled by researchers trying to understand the reproduction and age structure of the population. This cull coincided with the expansion of coyotes into the park, and lead to an increase in eastern wolf-coyote hybridization.10 Introgression of gray wolf genes into the eastern wolf population also occurred across northern Ontario, into Manitoba and Quebec, as well as into the western Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.5
Despite protection within the Park boundaries, there was a population decline in the east side of the Park between 1987–1999, with an estimated number of 30 packs by 2000. This decline exceeded annual recruitment, and was attributed to human-caused mortality, which mostly occurred when dispersing animals left the Park in search of deer during the winter months, and when pack ranges overlapped with Park boundaries.16 By 2001, protection was extended to eastern wolves occurring in the outskirts of the Park. By 2012, the genetic composition of the Park's eastern wolves was roughly restored to what it was in the mid-1960s than in the 1980s-1990s, when the majority of wolves had large amounts of coyote DNA.10
The eastern wolf is prominently portrayed in Algonquin mythology, where it is referred to as ma-hei-gan or nah-poo-tee in the Algonquian languages. It is the spirit brother of the Algonquian folkhero Nanabozho, and assisted him in several of his adventures, including thwarting the plots of the malicious anamakqui spirits and assisting him in recreating the world after a worldwide flood.17
Since the discovery in 1963 that eastern wolves answered human imitations of their howls, Algonquin Provincial Park began its Public Wolf Howls attraction, where as many as 2,500 visitors are led on expeditions into areas where eastern wolves were sighted the night before and listen to them answering the Park staff's imitation howls. By 2000, 85 Public Wolf Howls had been held, with over 110,000 people having participated. The Park considers the attraction as the cornerstone of its wolf education program, and credits it with changing public attitudes towards wolves in Ontario.16
Since the early 1970s, there have been several incidents of bold or aggressive behavior towards humans in Algonquin Provincial Park. Between 1987-1996, there were four instances of wolves biting people. The most serious case occurred in 1998, when a male wolf that had been long noted to be unafraid of humans stalked a couple walking their four-year old daughter in September that year, losing interest when the family took refuge in a trailer. Two days later, the wolf attacked a 19-month-old boy, causing several puncture wounds on his chest and back before being driven off by campers. After the animal was killed later that day, it was found to be non-rabid, and had a DNA profile typical of wolves of the area, thus indicating it was not a hybrid.18
- Pimlott, D. H., Shannon, J. A. & Kolenosky, G. B. (1969). "The ecology of the timber wolf in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario", Research Report (Wildlife), no. 87. Ontario, Department of Lands and Forests, Toronto, Ontario
- Rutledge, L., The Eastern Wolf: What we do and do not know..., Wolf Steward (April 2010)
- Theberge, J. & Theberge, M. (2013). Wolf Country: Eleven Years Tracking the Algonquin Wolves, Random House LLC
- Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Thiel, R. P. & Wydeven, A. P. (2012). Eastern Wolf (Canis lycaon) Status Assessment Report: Covering East-Central North America, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Beeland, T. D. (2013). Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America's Other Wolf, UNC Press Books, ISBN 1469601990
- Theberge, J.B. & M.T. Theberge (2004). The wolves of Algonquin Park, a 12 Year Ecological Study, Department of Geography, Publication Series Number 56, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario
- Rutledge, L. Y. (May 2010). Evolutionary origins, social structure, and hybridization of the eastern wolf (Canis lycaon), [thesis], Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
- Wilson, P.J., Grewal, S., Lawford, I.D., Heal, J.N.M., Granacki, A.G., Pennock, D., Theberge, J.B., Theberge, M.T., Voigt, D.R., Waddell, W., Chambers, R.E., Paquet, P.C., Goulet, G., Cluff, D., White, B.N. (2000). "DNA profiles of the eastern Canadian wolf and the red wolf provide evidence for a common evolutionary history independent of the gray wolf". Canadian Journal of Zoology 78: 2156–2166.
- Kelly, B.T., Beyer, A. & Phillips, M.K. (2008). Canis rufus. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 02 April 2014
- Koblmüller, S., Nord, M., Wayne, R.K. & Leonard, J.A., (2009). Origin and status of the Great Lakes wolf, Molecular Ecology, 18:2313-2326
- Chambers SM, Fain SR, Fazio B, Amaral M (2012). "An account of the taxonomy of North American wolves from morphological and genetic analyses". North American Fauna 77: 1–67. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- Linda Y. Rutledge, Bradley N. White, Jeffrey R. Row & Brent R. Patterson (2012). "Intense harvesting of eastern wolves facilitated hybridization with coyotes". Ecology and Evolution 2 (1): 19–33. doi:10.1002/ece3.61. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- VonHolt, BM; et al. (12 May 2011). "A genome-wide perspective on the evolutionary history of enigmatic wolf-like canids". Genome Res 21 (8): 1294–305. doi:10.1101/gr.116301.110. PMC 3149496. PMID 21566151.
- Paul J. Wilson, Linda Y. Rutledge, Tyler J. Wheeldon, Brent R. Patterson & Bradley N. White (2012). "Y-chromosome evidence supports widespread signatures of three-species Canis hybridization in eastern North America". Ecology and Evolution 2 (9): 2325–2332. doi:10.1002/ece3.301. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- Astrid V. Stronen, Nathalie Tessier, Hélène Jolicoeur, Paul C. Paquet, Michel Hénault, Mario Villemure, Brent R. Patterson, Tim Sallows, Gloria Goulet and François-Joseph Lapointe (2012). "Canid hybridization: contemporary evolution in human-modified landscapes". Ecology and Evolution 2 (9): 2128–2140. doi:10.1002/ece3.335. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- Darwin, Charles (1859), "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life", Nature (Full image view 1st ed.) (London: John Murray) 5 (121): 92, Bibcode:1872Natur...5..318B, doi:10.1038/005318a0, retrieved 2011-03-01
- Ganong, W. F. (1910). The identity of the animals and plants mentioned by the early voyagers to Eastern Canada and Newfoundland, Royal Society of Canada, Ottawa, pp. 223
- Algonquin Wolf Advisory Group (2000). The Wolves of Algonquin Provincial Park: A Report to the Minister of Natural Resources, Algonquin Wolf Advisory Group, Ontario
- Young, E. R. (1903). Algonquin Indian Tales, New York : Eaton & Mains; Cincinnati, Jennings & Pye.
- McNay, Mark E. (2002). A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Technical Bulletin. Retrieved on 2013-10-09.
- Manville, R. H. & Sturtevant, W. C. (1966). "Early Specimens of the Eastern Wolf Canis lupus lycaon". Chesapeake Science 7: 219–20.
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