The sighting of red-coated canids has sparked a heated debate in the scientific community regarding genetic diversity. The mysterious coyotes were seen roaming the Texas wildlands, and scientists immediately noticed there was something strange about them. They eerily resembled a species of red wolves that has been declared extinct in the wild since the 1980s.
The DNA extracted from these coyotes indicates that they might actually be descendants of these red wolves. And while these red wolves are considered to be extinct in the wild, there is a small population living in a captive breeding program located in North Carolina.
Wildlife biologist Ron Wooten decided to see whether the coyotes that can be found on Galveston Island do indeed share similarities with the now-extinct wolves. He contacted a team of scientists from Princeton who then helped him test the DNA of these coyotes. They compared the DNA against samples of coyote, Yellowstone gray wolves, Canada’s Eastern wolves, and the red wolves bred in captivity. The results showed that the Galveston Island coyotes only shared genetic variants with the red wolves.
These stretches of red wolf DNA, known as ghost alleles, need to be preserved. Since the red wolves have been extinct for almost 40 years, scientists believe it is worth preserving this species since it also helps with preserving genetic diversity. By preserving this ghost DNA, we are allowing at least a part of the red wolves to live on today. This is similar to the way that anywhere from one to three percent of Neandertal DNA still lives on in certain people in Asia and Europe.
The biggest issue with current conservation efforts is that they are focused on endangered or rare species. The focus needs to be widened to include the preservation of genetic diversity within more common species, as genetic diversity is of great benefit to the longevity of any species.