Archive for April, 2012
As a response to one of the comments I received today, I’m going to show you photos of an Eastern coyote from upstate New York and a red wolf. The two animals are virtually identical, and they have almost the same amount of coyote ancestry.
Why one is an endangered species and the other something that can be killed at virtually any time of the year is one of those little puzzles that one ought to think about more carefully.
Eastern coyote from New York state (Canis latrans):
Red wolf (supposed Canis rufus):
If you saw these two animals running around in the woods, you would think they were the same species.
And they are!
And they have very similar sizes. Eastern coyotes vary from 25 to 70 pounds, and red wolves vary from 40 to 80 pounds.
There is a definite overlap in size.
And there is also an ecological overlap. Northeastern coyotes are efficient predators of deer, as are red wolves.
Both of these animals derive from recent introgression of wolf genes into coyotes populations. Red wolves are 76 percent coyote on average, and Eastern coyotes in New York State average 82 percent coyote.
The red wolf is nothing more than a fancy “breed” of coyote that was trapped out of East Texas and Louisiana in the 1970’s and then released into reserves in the Southeast. These reserves spend most of their red wolf management time trapping out coyotes, which readily breed with red wolves. There is no species barrier between red wolves and Eastern coyotes.
Why would there be?
Now, there are species barriers that prevent frequent between coyotes and wolves and dogs. If there weren’t, coyotes would have become almost entirely dog in ancestry by now. They hybridize at the margins.
Red wolves will mate with coyotes as readily as they’ll mate with each other.
This is why this whole thing makes no sense to me.
The genetic evidence shows that red wolves are as much coyote as coyotes roaming freely in the Eastern US.
But the coyote is a common and often persecuted species.
And the red wolf is a highly endangered species!
There is something wrong with that.
See related posts:
- The creature formerly known as “the red wolf”
- No unique “Eastern wolf” species
- The junk science behind the red wolf
It has been nearly a year since the paradigm-shattering study on the wolf and coyote genomes was released. (vonHolt 2011). The study examined 48,000 SNP’s (single-nucleotide polymorphism) in the genomes of these species and compared them to each other. In this way, the researchers were able to see which animals were most closely related to each other.
The study was the most in-depth analysis of a wild species’ genome that had ever been performed, and it revealed that several sacred cows in wolf taxonomy are not what they have been proposed to be.
The same was found for the red wolf of the southeastern US.
Most of these studies were designed to counter Robert Wayne’s study that revealed that all red wolves actually had coyote mtDNA. He initially contended that they were hybrids between wolves and coyotes, but red wolves were still worthy of conservation because a large number of wolves had coyote mtDNA sequeneces. Wayne also found at least one red wolf with wolf mtDNA sequence, which really raised a red flag. Although most red wolves were found to have coyote mtDNA, finding one with wolf mtDNA was really indicative of these animals being of hybrid origin.
Of course, this drove some people really crazy. Ron Nowak, a comparative anatomist who worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, tried several times to connect the red wolf to any number of prehistoric wolf-like canids that existed in North America, as well as claiming that the reason why these animals appeared to have coyote mtDNA is because they, as native North American Canis, would be more closely related to the coyote. It would not necessarily be indicative of hybridization.
Mitochondrial DNA is inherited only maternally, and we do know that when wolves and coyotes mate in the wild, the hybrid is almost always a male wolf mating with a female coyote.
So we have this problem of certain animals that are called wolves that have coyote mtDNA.
And there were three potential hypotheses:
- These wolves represent an ancient species that evolved from the same ancestor as the coyote.
- These wolves are the same species as other wolves. They just have coyote mtDNA from a coyote that entered the gene pool in recent times.
- These wolves are a unique species that resulted from an ancient hybridization between wolves and coyotes.
I generally came to accept a sort of hybrid between 2 and 3. I thought that red wolves and Eastern wolves were the result of an old introgression of coyote genes into the wolf population. When the first wolves came across the Bering Land Bridge, they likely didn’t come in large numbers and as they came down into the middle latitudes of North America, the only available mates would have been coyotes. They mated with female coyotes and carried coyote mtDNA into Eastern North America.
However, the vonHolt SNP study changed all of this.
It essentially rendered all previous hypotheses and findings moot.
What this study found was the the wolves with coyote mtDNA, the red wolves and those of the Great Lakes and Eastern Canada, had SNP’s in common with Canis lupus and Canis latrans. Eastern coyotes also had wolf SNP’s.
And what’s more, all the hybridizations, except the one involving the Western Great Lakes wolves, happened after colonization. The Western Great Lakes hybridization happened between 600 and 900 years ago, but these wolves are only 15 percent coyote on average. Thus, after that initial cross, they have been breeding back into wolves.
Red wolves were found to be almost entirely coyote, averaging 76 percent coyote and 24 percent wolf. Algonquin Park wolves, which have been much ballyhooed in the Canadian wildlife literature, are pretty close to 50/50 wolf and coyote. They averaged 58 percent wolf and 42 percent coyote.
If these animals had been an ancient unique species, it would have come out in this analysis. Instead, this analysis found something more interesting. Wolves and coyotes are distinct species, but the edge between them is blurred a bit. Wolves and coyotes do exchange genes under certain circumstances. In this way, there is a sort of species complex between them.
But what about discoveries of pre-Columbian wolves with coyote mtDNA?
Rutledge found coyote mtDNA sequences in wolf-like canids that were living in Quebec 400-500 years ago.
But these hybrids were around centuries after the wolves of the Great Lakes received their coyote introgression. Perhaps these pre-Columbian wolves with coyote mtDNA were initially more widespread. The Great Lakes and Quebec are actually linked as a waterway and the terrain makes it very easy for animals to move from one side to the other.
The Great Lakes and into the St. Lawrence is a major pathway for Carnivorans. This is the path that coyotes used to enter the northeastern US all the way down to Virginia.
So these two species have interbred at different times.
The Eastern wolf and the red wolf are merely the result of hybridization, and they do not represent ancient species that are independent from the main wolf or coyote lineage.
The same can be said for the Eastern coyote, which does have some wolf ancestry.
As for the ancient species that Nowak and other hitched their arguments to, a much more likely explanation is that the coyote and wolf lineages have produced animals that look more like wolves or more like coyotes.
The Arabian wolf is very much like a coyote. It doesn’t normally form large packs, and some individuals can be in the 25-pound range.
The Honshu wolf was even more similar to a coyote and was reported to have occasionally matured weighing in the 20 pound range.
And there is good evidence that coyotes during the Pleistocene were quite a bit larger than they are now.
It’s likely that ancient North American Canis had the same proclivities. Different conditions produced selection pressures for different sizes, and one could get wolf-sized animals out of the coyote lineage.
We’re seeing something similar going on with Eastern coyotes, which are evolving larger size and more powerful jaws in order to become better deer hunters. They get these traits from their wolf ancestors, but natural selection is also playing a role.
So one needs to be careful of someone trying to use the fossil record to argue against genome-wide studies.
The wolf conservation community has not accepted these findings. The US Fish and Wildlife Service just ignored the vonHolt study entirely.
David Mech, an expert on wolf ecology and behavior, said it couldn’t be true because he’d never seen a wolf and coyote mate in the wild– as if that somehow contradicted the DNA evidence that they have and continue to do so!
The paradigm says that the red wolf is the second wolf species. It is an ancient North America species that ranged all over the Eastern part of the continent.
Too bad the evidence for this entirely exists in rather superficial DNA analyses and the speculations of paleontologists.
The DNA simply says otherwise.
And the red wolf and the Eastern wolf are fictional animals, the result of overly imaginative hypotheses and not enough hard science.
Just because a fossil looks like an animal alive today doesn’t mean that it is the ancestor of the extant form.
Making inferences from fossils will always be haphazard and speculative to a certain point, and sometimes, the DNA evidence totally contradicts and falsifies these inferences.
That’s what happened here.
Too bad it’s not being recognized in an official capacity.
See related posts:
- The creature formerly known as the red wolf
- No unique “Eastern wolf” species
- The Canis lupus/Canis latrans species complex
With dogs, there are many, many questionable breeding practices.
But among the ones that should be obvious anyone with a halfway decent set of eyes and a few functioning brain cells are the ones associated with the bulldog.
To make it clear, I’m referring the “English bulldog,” a creature that has been in the Kennel Club system since the beginning, and is now generally regarded as useless for anything except being a pet.
I’m not referring to other bulldogs or bulldog and terrier types, which are of this same family.
I’m talking about the freakazoids, the monstrosities on four legs that we call bulldogs.
Yes, this is a real dog.
Dog DNA has some peculiarities that make the phenotype of the species somewhat malleable.
Thus, it is comparatively very easy to “sculpt” any sort of unusual morphological features with them.
That’s one reason why dogs within the same breed change so much over time, and it’s also a major health and welfare issue.
I remember watching a documentary from several years ago in which a papillon breeder, who was heavily involved in the show culture and show breeding, said that her dogs were her artwork. That was actually the most profound statement I’ve ever heard one of these breeders produce.
Most of these fancy features don’t exist in the wild. They don’t even exist in freely breeding street dog populations. Nature would select very strongly against them.
But we have decided in dog shows that these features are to be celebrated and lauded.
The bulldog monstrosities that we now see are the creation of the show ring.
They were not created in butcher shops or in baiting rings.
They were created because of human caprice and vanity.
You see, the bulldog has been going sideways for a very long time.
If you don’t believe me, check out the words of Rawdon Lee. Rawdon Lee was a British dog expert who wrote several volumes of treatises on purebred dogs of the late nineteenth century in his native country. Entitled A history and description of the modern dogs of Great Britain and Ireland, these well-written tomes are among the best historical records of dogs of that time period. Lee was very much in favor of dog shows and the dog fancy. Every one of his entries includes some analysis of the breed standard at the time.
For those reasons, his entry on the bulldog is of particular interest. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He attacks the nineenth century dog fancy for ruining this breed, which he considered a “national monument.” His entry can be found on the volume that covers the “Nonsporting Division,” and nearly every word of this text could be to describe the state of the bulldog today.
Time is known to play grim jokes with historical monuments, but it probably has never burlesqued anything more than it has our national emblem, the British bulldog.
Evolved for a specific purpose—a purpose long since stamped out both by law and by sentiment— the present day examples can only be looked upon as the result of breeding for certain points not desired or found in any other kind of dog. That the bulldog can claim as great pretensions to antiquity as any other now so-called breeds is not to be denied; but to say that bulldogs are bred to-day on the same lines as they were even sixty years ago would be an assertion that could not by any evidence be defended.
Evidence which is far more reliable is at our disposal in the pictures published towards the end of the last and the beginning of this century—the epoch when bull-baiting was in vogue—and, judging from these pictures, the bulldog of that time was but a phantom-like shadow of the animal the fin de sifale bulldog enthusiast has by patience succeeded in breeding.
Thus to him who, nowadays, wishes either to breed or to own an up-to-date specimen, it will be so much useless and embarrassing learning if he hampers himself with any considerations as to the outline and general appearance of what has been handed down to him regarding the animals his ancestors looked up to as bulldogs. Should he decide upon breeding bulldogs he will find, in order to produce a specimen at all approaching the modern ideal, that, instead of wasting time in pondering over the old type, he will have to employ that particular style of dog which may at the moment be in fashion.
He need have no misapprehension that the type in general will in the future change much, if at all; nor need he fear that the goal he is striving for will be advanced. For it must be remembered that the standard laid down for this breed has not materially altered during the last twenty years, though judges’ decisions may have sometimes been at variance with, if not diametrically opposed to, the standard type. The very fact of there being now two bulldog clubs is a guarantee that no radical change in the standard will ever be permitted, as one or other of the clubs is certain to hover round so safe an anchorage as an established type. If either club sanctions what sensible men must know is a departure from what is correct, it is only reasonable to suppose that in the fulness of time that club will sink in public estimation.
The miasma of the breed is that the bulldog in popular opinion has for so long been regarded as the butcher’s able assistant and the ruffian’s faithful companion; but, owing to the interest its peculiar conformation affords to the science of breeding, it yearly gains more ground in civilised society by attracting the attention of men of better education.
The picture of a bulldog in Youatt’s book (1845) is peculiar, to say the least. It represents a white dog as big as a mastiff, with bowed legs, a ” roach” back, short whip tail, and cow-shaped hocks. Still, he looks strong enough to pin a bull. However, about that time considerable attention was being given to the production of the British bulldog; but there was little material to work on, though there were enthusiasts in the cause even then, who mostly lived in London and in other large manufacturing centres. When dog shows began to exist, an impetus was given to all varieties of the canine race, the bulldog amongst the rest. Jemmy Shaw had kept some of the best blood in London; and old Ben White, who preceded the celebrated Bill George in his kennels at Kensal Town; Jacob Lamphier, of Birmingham; Charlie Stockdale, William M’Donald, London; James Hinks, Reeves, and Mr. Percivall, of Birmingham; Mr. Ashburne, Mr. Turton, all gave them attention, and to such men as these enthusiasts—if most of them were dealers—we owe what good bulldogs there are at the present time (pg. 205-215).
Lee writes that the original bulldog was quite a large animal, but the dog shows changed them.
The final paragraph is full of a rogue’s gallery of dog dealers and half-assed “dog improvers” : Bill George is often credited with creating the modern bulldog at his Canine Castle at Kensal New Town in London. He produced all sorts of different types of bulldogs from tiny toy bulldogs to massive bulldogs that derived from crosses with the Spanish alano. James Hinks may be better known as the creator of the “white cavalier,” the improved English bull terrier. This dog still exists today, but Hinks bred his dog to be the perfect pet of the gentleman. It was supposedly never to start a fight, but if riled, it would gladly finish it.
The bulldog became a dog of conspicuous consumption, a dog to be sold because of what it looked like and what it symbolized.
And Lee points out that not all the esoteric fancy points of bulldogs were the result of breeding. Lee describes cruel procedures that were used to alter the dog’s conformation and make them more likely to win prizes:
In the ” good old days,” about Sheffield and Birmingham, dishonest practices were in force, which were said to improve the face and muzzle of the bulldog. Cruel contrivances called ” jacks” were fixed on to the muzzle in such a manner as to drive the nose back. Sometimes, too, the ears were cut, and the more recent case of the disqualification of Monarch when shown by Mr. D. S. Oliver at Birmingham, in 1880, is not yet forgotten. Monarch had been shown successfully the year before, and was again awarded similar honours. After the judging, attention was called to the dog’s ears, upon which were found certain marks which led to the animal’s disqualification. Subsequent inquiry took place, and at a meeting held on December 16 several experts were examined, who were unanimous in their opinion that the marks had been wilfully made whilst the dog was in the show, and Mr. Oliver was exonerated from all blame in the matter. He, however, took the dastardly action so much to heart as to completely sever his connection with the bulldog “fancy.” Another dog of note known to be “faked” was F. Lamphier’s Tiger, for which Mr. George Raper [ironic name] gave £45, well aware of the defects of his purchase, but he considered him cheap at the money for breeding purposes (pg. 216-217).
Of course, it wasn’t long before they figured out how to breed for extreme brachycephaly in bulldogs, and by then, it was too late.
The difficulty in breeding bulldogs was evident even in those days. Lee writes:
One thing there always will be against the actual popularity of the bulldog, and that is the great difficulty there is in breeding first-rate specimens, and, with very few exceptions, our best bitches are wretched mothers, in some cases refusing to breed at all, in others failing to suckle the puppies, and in others the puppies often enough are born dead. Inbreeding, huge heads, and malformation of chest and forelegs are no doubt responsible for this state of things, nor is it likely matters will improve in this particular at any early date (pg. 228).
He doesn’t mention “water puppies,” which are at epidemic levels in the breed, or the fact that virtually all bitches require a Cesarean section to produce puppies. This procedure was not commonly performed on dogs in those days, so there may have been that control to prevent the most extreme exaggerations in the breed. Lee’s description of the problems of bulldog bitches sounds more like the result of an inbreeding depression that set in among the bulldogs.
Of course, now we have all these scientific methods for producing puppies. If bitches won’t mate, you can always do AI. In fact, almost all bulldogs must be produce through AI or through very carefully assisted matings. Cesareans mean that there is almost no limit on how big the head can get or how narrow the pelvis can become.
The bulldog wouldn’t exist without modern veterinary medicine to keep it reproducing.
But the dog was well on its way into ruination nearly 120 years ago.
However, Lee was very wrong about this breed’s popularity.
For a variety of reasons, this breed has recently become very popular in the United States. The AKC lists the bulldog as the sixth most popular breed in terms of its own registrations for 2011.
This is really quite sad.
The bulldog is caricature of what it once was. Heavily interbred with pugs and terriers, the bulldog is no longer the large mastiff-type dog it once was.
Bred for such extreme brachcephaly, it has issues both in breathing and cooling itself.
These dogs are were used to fight bulls in contests– which were banned because they were cruel.
But then the dog became a show dog, and it became a monstrosity with so many health problems that are related both to inbreeding and breeding for an exaggerated conformation that it would be hard for me to list them all here.
Breeding a dog that is not being able to breathe or cool itself properly is every bit as cruel as breeding a dog for fighting purposes.
In a sad way, it is even more so, for now all rational and humane people denounce dog fighting. But virtually no one says the same thing about breeding for a body type that has very real health and welfare consequences.
It’s cruelty. No matter how you look at it.
I’ve discovered in comments that are too stupid to publish that I’m not well-regarded among the bulldog fancy.
I welcome their hatred.
The vast majority of what I’ve seen among these people are the rantings of lower class, poorly educated people whose idea of a good argument tactic is to write “your an idiot.” From what I’ve seen of the Team Jenny (“We was robbed”) Facebook group, the typical demographic of the British bulldog fancier is a working class Tory with very poor grammar and reasoning skills. (Which is probably why they are working class Tories in the first place!)
There are some sane bulldog breeders out there, but very few of them are working within the system and with this particular breed.
But these people are few and far between, and I doubt that they can make much of a different to a breed that is already so common.
The bulldog is most common in the United States, a country that generally scoffs at or has ignored the problems of purebred dogs.
So the bulldog is screwed.
120 years or more of “improving,,” and it’s still effed up– and getting worse.
This is Chilie, a female golden retriever from Denmark who loves to dive for stones.
This dogs is very lithe and wiry– probably a mixture of performance and conformation lines.
But she’s definitely a credit to her St. John’s water dog ancestors, who were famous for diving down after shot seals.
Stones aren’t the best thing for a dog to retrieve. They are very hard on the dog’s teeth.
However, if one could find something else that will sink but easier on the dog’s teeth, this activity would be much safer.
Red deer are currently the largest wild animals on the British Isles. It has been clear for a long time that the red deer of Great Britain are native, but when they colonized Ireland has always been a bit of a question.
Of course, not all deer in the British Isles are native.
Fallow deer were introduced to England by the Romans, but they may not have spread across the British Isles until the Romans arrived.
Reeves’s muntjac were introduced very recently. Although traditionally believed to have been introduced at Wobun Abbey in Bedfordshire in the 1890’s, it is more likely that growing English muntjac population comes from other introductions. However, Chinese water deer were introduced at Wobun Abbey at the same time that the Reeves’s muntjac were supposedly introduced. The Duke of Bedford, who owned Wobun Abbey, also introduced a herd of Pere David’s deer from China. These deer did establish themselves there, and all Pere David’s deer still in existence descend from that naturalized herd. (They are extinct in the wild.)
Sika deer have been on both Great Britain and Ireland since the early 1900’s, and they readily hybridize with red deer. Sikas are close relatives the wapiti– the North American “elk”– and like the introduced wapiti of New Zealand, they do interbreed with red deer.
The only native deer in the British Isles are European roe deer and red deer. Roe deer are not currently found in Ireland, but they were introduced on an estate in County Sligo in the 1870’s. However, these roe deer died out after 50 years.
So it appeared that Ireland’s only native deer was the red deer.
During the Pleistocene, Ireland was home to Meglaceros deer. In English, we often refer to these unusual animals as “Irish elk,”‘ and it was once famously suggested that Irish wolfhound were once used to hunt them. Too bad that they were extinct long before there were any dogs like Irish wolfhounds running about!
But this recent study is quite amazing.
A research team from Ireland, Austria, the UK, and the United States compared the DNA of ancient red deer bone specimens with modern red deer.
They found that red deer were introduced to the island about 5,000 years ago. The deer of County Kerry are particularly closely related to these ancient red deer and are thus a unique population.
5,000 years ago is about the same time the Neolithic Revolution hit Ireland:
The Irish Neolithic Period (c.4000 – 2500 BC) was when agricultural communities became established in Ireland. This involved the introduction of domesticated plants and animals to the island. The red deer appear to have been introduced as part of this change.
The study findings concur with archaeological evidence, which also suggests a special relationship between humans and red deer during prehistoric times. Antler fragments and tools are frequently found in Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age excavations.
Red deer were very important to ancient Europeans.
Michael Jarman famously argued that ancient Europeans maintained what could be called “red deer economies.” Jarman contended that Europeans managed red deer in order to propagate the species. These ancient Europeans culled mostly the young males and left the hinds and mature stags to produce the next generation. In this way, deer herds were kept as a resource, and the deer benefited from having a managed population that wasn’t as prone to boom and bust as they would have normally have been.
Of course, Jarman’s thesis has been attacked for being somewhat overly speculative. Hinds don’t leave behind antlers, and Jarman based most of his research on sites where there were lots of red deer antlers left behind.
And Benedetto Sala contends that Jarman’s thesis that the high mortality rate with young adult red deer is actually more the result of deer behavior rules than human hunting. When red deer hit the age of four or five, they are driven from their mother’s herd.
This leaves them open to human predators, which might go a long way to explaining why the antlers of so many young adult stags have been found at the sites Jarman examined.
But whether we accept Jarman’s hypothesis or not, red deer were very important to Mesolithic Europeans.
By the Neolithic, animal domestication was well underway. In places that were relatively late in receiving agriculture, domestic animals would have arrived already domesticated.
Red deer likely weren’t domesticated. They really aren’t now, even though they are managed in parks and bred at commercial deer farms.
However, it is likely that the Irish brought red deer over from Great Britain in order to have ready access to a game species.
After all, following the extinction of the Irish elk, there were no large game species on Ireland– except for wild boar.
Wild boar, it turns out, went extinct on Ireland roughly 5,000 years ago. It is thought that the deforestation that came with the arrival of agriculture made it impossible for the boars to survive.
Perhaps, the introduction of red deer in Ireland had more to do with the necessity of substituting one large game species for another one.
This study also shows that Irish wolves likely lived almost exclusively on wild boar for thousands of years, but they likely took to hunting red deer and domestic stock once that species became extinct.
The relatively late introduction of red deer to Ireland is a bit of a surprise.
But it shows that humans have been introducing species for thousands of years.
Introducing species is something we have done ever since we’ve mastered the seas. It’s just now that our ability to transport species from vast distances is also allowing us to release scores of invasive species throughout the world.
It’s not new.
It’s just now we’ve done it so much that it’s really having an impact across the globe.
A special thanks to reader Ogre Magi for passing this one along!