Geraldine Werhahn summarises the Asian wolf’s evolutionary history

June 1, 2022

Wolves in Asia have been comparably little studied but merit more attention from science and conservation. A new study led by WildCRU researcher Geraldine Werhahn, in collaboration with Dr. Helen Senn from RZSS WildGenes, summarizes the available science to date on Asian wolf evolutionary history. The genus Canis (generally the most ‘wolf-like’ Canids) can challenge taxonomists because species boundaries and distribution ranges are often gradual, meaning it isn’t obvious where one species ends and another begins. This is due to wolf-specific characteristics such as large territories, long dispersal distances, and disposition to hybridize if mates of the same species are lacking. Species delineation within the Canis genus is currently not based on consistent criteria and is hampered by geographical bias and lack of taxonomic research. However, having consistent taxonomies is critical because species delineations are very important for assigning legal protection, and prioritising conservation action. Dr. Werhahn’s team carried out a qualitative review of the major wolf lineages identified across Asia from historical to contemporary time and considered relevant morphological, ecological, and genetic evidence. They paper presents the mitochondrial phylogenies and genetic distances between these lineages. These findings support evolutionary distinctions between Holarctic grey, Himalayan/Tibetan, Indian, and Arabian wolves in Asia, and recommends their taxonomic recognition at species and subspecies level.