Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New Clues To Extinct Falklands Wolf Mystery

Date:
November 3, 2009
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
Ever since the Falklands wolf was described by Darwin himself, the origin of this now-extinct canid found only on the Falkland Islands far off the east coast of Argentina has remained a mystery. Now, researchers who have compared DNA from four of the world's dozen or so known Falklands wolf museum specimens to that of living canids offer new insight into the evolutionary ancestry of these enigmatic carnivores.

Falkland wolf (Dusicyon australis). (Original description: Canis antarcticus.)
Credit: Darwin, C. R. ed. 1838. Mammalia Part 2 No. 1 of The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle. By George R. Waterhouse. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Ever since the Falklands wolf was described by Darwin himself, the origin of this now-extinct canid found only on the Falkland Islands far off the east coast of Argentina has remained a mystery. Now, researchers reporting in the November 3rd issue of Current Biology who have compared DNA from four of the world's dozen or so known Falklands wolf museum specimens to that of living canids offer new insight into the evolutionary ancestry of these enigmatic carnivores.

Related Articles


"One of the big draws for an evolutionary biologist is that this species had a big influence on Darwin's ideas about how species evolve," said Graham Slater of the University of California, Los Angeles, noting that Darwin recognized differences between the East Falkland and West Falkland wolves as evidence that species are not fixed entities. But the wolves' circumstances were also just downright puzzling.

"It's really strange that the only native mammal on an island would be a large canid," Slater explained. "There are no other native terrestrial mammals -- not even a mouse. It's even stranger when you consider that the Falklands are some 480 kilometers from the South American mainland. The question is, how did they get there?"

Possible explanations for the wolves' presence on the islands, which have never been connected to the South American mainland, range from dispersal by ice or logs to domestication and subsequent transport by Native Americans. Ultimately, the Falklands wolf died out because it was perceived as a threat to settlers and their sheep, although fur traders took out a lot of the population as well.

Biologists have also puzzled over the Falklands wolf's ancestry. It had been suggested that they were related to domestic dogs, North American coyotes, or South American foxes. Slater said the wolves were the size of a coyote, but much stockier, with fur the color of a red fox. They had short muzzles, just like gray wolves, and thick, woolly fur.

Slater's team now reports that the Falklands wolf's closest living relative is actually the maned wolf -- an unusually long-legged, fox-like South American canid. The researchers also found that the four Falklands wolf samples that they examined shared a common ancestor at least 70,000 years ago, which suggests that they arrived on the islands before the end of the last ice age and before humans ever made it into the New World. That rules out the prevailing theory that Native Americans had anything to do with their presence on the islands.

"The biggest surprise was that the divergence of the Falklands wolf from its closest living relative, the maned wolf, occurred over 6 million years ago," Slater said. "Canids don't show up in the South American fossil record until 2.5 million years ago, which means these lineages must have evolved in North America. The problem is that there are no good fossils that can be assigned to the Falklands wolf lineage in North America."

Given that maned and Falklands wolves split so long ago, there should be fossils of their close relatives in South America, Slater said. And in fact, the researchers may have a candidate: a species from Patagonia called Dusicyon avus, which went extinct 6,000 to 8,000 years ago. Slater says that's a possibility that study coauthor Alan Cooper at the University of Adelaide in Australia is further investigating now.

The researchers include Graham J. Slater, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; Olaf Thalmann, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; Jennifer A. Leonard, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, Rena M. Schweizer, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; Klaus-Peter Koepfli, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, John P. Pollinger, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, Nicolas J. Rawlence, University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia; Jeremy J. Austin, University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia; Alan Cooper, University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia; and Robert K. Wayne, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "New Clues To Extinct Falklands Wolf Mystery." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 November 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091102121449.htm>.
Cell Press. (2009, November 3). New Clues To Extinct Falklands Wolf Mystery. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091102121449.htm
Cell Press. "New Clues To Extinct Falklands Wolf Mystery." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091102121449.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) — Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) — Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) — One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) — Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins