Genetic detection study confirms existence of a wolf-dog hybrid in Pune
Mixing of dog genomes into wolves and vice-versa can threaten the wild wolf population, disrupt the social structure of wolf packs, and further increase hybridisation rates, said the researchers
In the study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution this month, citizen scientists from The Grassland Trust, Pune, and researchers from Bengaluru-based National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) found the existence of hybrid wolf dog specie in Pune, which have become a threat to the Indian wolf specie.
Speaking about the same Mihir Godbole founder The Grassland Trust said, “Although wolf–dog hybridisation has long been speculated to be prevalent in India, there are no published reports with genetic analysis. Therefore, we decided to conduct the study. For this, we requested the Pune forest department for permission to collect samples. The scientists at NCBS extracted DNA from the hair samples and carried out genome sequencing. The sequences were compared to previously sequenced samples from five Indian wolves, 11 wolves from across different continents, six dogs, three jackals, and three holes.”
The results confirmed the presence of wolf-dog hybrids in the region. However, even though currently, the existence of hybrid species is confirmed only in the Pune district, there are some photos shared by researchers, and photographers from Dhule, Nashik, and other parts of the state suspecting wolf–dog hybrid individuals with “unusual facial features and a tawny coat”, Godbole added.
What are the causes?
The research states that, with the expansion of human habitats, wildlife habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented, often in proximity to human-modified landscapes. This results in increased interactions between feral or domesticated animals and wildlife that pose a threat to wild species in terms of hybridisation, disease transmission, predation, and scavenging.
Impact of hybridisation
Indian wolves are considered as an ancient lineage of wolves in Asia. Mixing of dog genomes into wolves and vice-versa can threaten the wild wolf population, disrupt the social structure of wolf packs, and further increase hybridisation rates, said the researchers.
“The conservation efforts in India are focused mainly on examining connectivity, tracking population dynamics, monitoring and assessing prey bases, and understanding human-wildlife conflict. However, for certain species like wolves, which inhabit regions beyond protected areas and face substantial human-dog interaction, the issue of hybridisation is of significant importance for conservation. To understand the depth of this situation a wide study needs to be conducted and the Grassland Trust has proposed to unstate-widestate-widee wolves study in Maharashtra,” said Mihir Godbole.