Pune: Genome sequencing of the Indian wolf, which determined the genetic makeup, has shown that grey wolf populations represent the most ancient surviving lineage among these carnivores.
The study conducted in Saswad and Morgaon areas near Pune by the University of California and scientists in India also indicated that the Indian wolf was among the most endangered and its habitat was threatened by human encroachment and land conversion.
The authors sequenced genomes of four Indian and two Tibetan wolves and included 31 additional canid genomes to resolve their evolutionary and phylogenomic history. They found that Tibetan and Indian wolves are distinct from each other and from other wolf populations.
The research is the first to include genomes of all three major wolf lineages — lupus (grey wolves), rufus (red wolves) and lycaon (a subspecies of grey wolf) — and provided new insights into the grey wolf’s evolutionary history. The report was published in the journal Molecular Ecology.
Other findings suggested that the Indian wolf could be even more basal than the Tibetan wolf, making it the most distantly divergent wolf alive today. The study emphasized the urgency of conserving Indian wolves, whose numbers are fewer than 3,000.
Lead author Lauren Hennelly, a doctoral student with the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Mammalian Ecology Conservation Unit, said wolves are one of the last remaining large carnivores in Pakistan, and many of India’s large carnivores are endangered. “Knowing they are so unique and found only here must inspire local people and scientists to learn more about conserving them and their grassland habitats,” she said.
Until this study, the evolutionary history of Indian wolves was based on mitochondrial DNA evidence inherited only from the mother. That evidence suggested that the Indian wolf diverged more recently than the Tibetan wolf, Hennelly said.
The study used the entire genome — the nuclear DNA containing nearly all of the genes reflecting the wolf’s evolutionary history which showed that the Indian wolf was likely even more divergent than the Tibetan wolf.
“This divergent lineage answers the question that could help their conservation at a policy scale which could trickle down and bolster local efforts to protect these wolves,” Hennelly said.
Mihir Godbole, founder of the Grasslands Trust for conservation of neglected habitats, said, “We have been working in collaboration with researchers, film-makers, policymakers to conserve the flora and fauna of the region, keeping in mind human welfare at the same time.”
Head: Sharing the landscape
The paper said grey wolves were one of the most widely distributed land mammals in the world
They are found in snow, forests, deserts and grasslands of the Northern Hemisphere
Wolves may have survived the Ice Ages in isolated regions called refugia, potentially diverging into distinct evolutionary lineages
The study recommends that Indian and Tibetan wolf populations be recognized as evolutionarily significant units
It is an interim designation that would help prioritize their conservation while their taxonomic classification is re-evaluated
This paper may be a game-changer for the species to persist in these landscapes. People may realize that the species with whom we have been sharing the landscape is the most distantly divergent wolf alive today
Bilal Habib I Co-author and a conservation biologist with Wildlife Institute of India
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