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A recent discussion popped up on Facebook this morning in which a member of a homesteading group bragged about what a good livestock guardian and hunting dog his Labrador was. This post got posted in a livestock guardian breed group, which resulted in much, much eye-rolling.

It is certainly true that there are dogs that make excellent livestock guardian dogs that aren’t of the typical breeds. Mark Derr has written extensively about the mongrel dogs of the Navajo that guard their sheep, but within those dogs, there is quite a bit of variance about which ones are good at the task and which ones would rather go roaming and hunting.

The breeds that have undergone selection for this work are much more likely to be successful. All these breeds have been selected for high defense drive and low prey drive. Little lambs can go jumping around these dogs, and their instinct to hunt and kill prey will not be stimulated.

Most dogs bred in the West are bred for the opposite behaviors.  The most popular breeds are usually from the gun dog and herding groups, and those breeds tend to have been selected for relatively high prey drive. Those dogs are much more likely to engage in predatory behavior towards them.

Further, breeds like Labradors are bred to have low defense drive. Labradors are very rarely good guard dogs. They have been bred to fit in the British shooting scene where they would regularly be exposed to other dogs and strangers, and these dogs have had much of their territorial and status-based aggression bred out of them. If the coyote shows up to a farm guarded by a Labrador, chances are very high that the Labrador will try to play with the coyote. It might bark at the coyote and intimidate the predator as well, but there aren’t many Labradors that are going to fight a coyote that comes menacing the flock.

The poster with the LGD Labrador claimed that Labradors were great herding dogs. When pressed on this point, he posted a photo of some yellow dogs moving a herd of beef cattle. These dogs weren’t Labradors. They were blackmouth curs, a breed that can superficially look like a Labrador, but it is a hunting and herding breed that is quite common parts of the South and Texas.  You could in theory train a Labrador to herd sheep, but I doubt you could ever train one to herd cattle. And the herding behavior would be far substandard to a breed actually bred for it.

The poster claimed that Labradors were “bred down from Newfoundlands,” and Newfoundlands are livestock guardians. The problem with this statement is that it is totally false. As I’ve noted many times on the blog, the big Newfoundland dog was actually bred up from the St. John’s water dog. Every genetic study on breed evolution, clearly puts this breed with the retrievers. This dog was mostly created for the British and American pet market, but it is a very large type of retriever.

And contrary to what I have written on this blog, it is now clear that retrievers and Newfoundlands are not an offshoot of the livestock guardian breeds.  A limited genetic study that also found Middle Eastern origins for all dogs had this finding, but a more complete genetic study found that retrievers and the Newfoundlad are actually a divergent form of gundog.

dog breed wheel newfoundland

I have not written much about this study, but it does change some of my retriever history posts. It turns out that Irish water spaniels are also retrievers and are very closely related to the curly-coated retrievers. It has been suggested that curly-coated retrievers are actually older than the St. John’s water dog imports, but conventional breed history holds that they are crosses between St. John’s water dogs and some form of water spaniel. It may actually be that something like a curly-coated retriever is the ancestor of the St. John’s water dog, and this dog would have been called a “water spaniel.”  I have not worked this one out yet. The dogs we call Newfoundland dogs, though, are much more closely related to the Labrador, flat-coated, and golden retrievers than to the curly-coated retriever and the Irish water spaniel. Thus, the Labrador and the Newfoundland dog are cousins, but the Labrador is not “bred down from the Newfoundland.”

The other clue that Newfoundland dogs and their kin aren’t good LGDs is that in Newfoundland, the sheep industry was actually severely retarded by the dogs. Fishermen let their dogs roam the countryside, and any time someone set out a flock of sheep, the water dogs, which I would call St. John’s water dogs, would descend upon the flocks and savage them.

So the natural history of the Labrador totally conflicts with its likely ability to be a good livestock guardian. The British bred these dogs to be extremely social, and their prey drive has been selected for.  They also have this entire history in which their ancestors went out hunting for their own food, which means they do have the capacity to become sheep hunting dogs.

The poster didn’t appreciate when these facts were pointed out. The response was that the other people were racist for saying that Labrador isn’t likely to be a good LGD, especially a Labrador that has been used for hunting.

This is problematic because dog breeds are not equivalent to human races. Human races are just naturally occurring variations that have evolved in our species as we have spread across the globe. Most of these differences are superficial, and none are such that it would justify any racial discrimination in law or policy.

Dog breeds, however, have been selectively bred for characteristics. The eugenics movement, the Nazis, and the slaveholders who selectively bred slaves are the only people who have engaged in the selective breeding of people. And all these periods in history have lasted only a very short time before they were deemed to be gross violations of human rights.

For some reason, people have a hard time accepting these facts about dogs, but the very same people often have no problem with an analogy with livestock.

If I want high milk yields, I will not buy Angus cattle. If I want marbled beef, I won’t buy Holsteins. If I want ducks to lay lots of eggs, I wouldn’t get Pekins, which will lay about 75 eggs a year. I would get Welsh harlequins, which might lay 280 a year. But they don’t get very big, and their meat yields are very low.

Angus cattle and Holsteins are the same species. Welsh harlequins and Pekins are too. But they have been selected for different traits.

Dogs have undergone similar selection. A Labrador retriever has its own history. So does a Central Asian shepherd.

Accepting that these dogs have different traits does not make one a racist. It merely means that one respects the truth of selective breeding.

And that’s why a Labrador isn’t really a good LGD.

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model

In the English language, the term “basset hound” refers to a specific breed. We recognize it as sort of a dwarf bloodhound that comes in the more “beagly” colors of tricolor and lemon and white.  It is immortalized in the cartoon character Droopy and is the mascot for the Hush Puppy shoe brand. One of my favorite stuffed animals as a boy was a Pound Puppy named “Droopy,” and the majority of these toys were based upon how basset hounds look.

This animal is well-established in Western pop culture, but its origins as a distinct breed are very rarely discussed. It is usually said to be a French breed, but anyone who has looked at French dog breeds closely very quickly discovers that there are many basset breeds. “Basset” just means a dwarf hound.  Dwarf dogs have shorter legs for their body size, and it very common in a variety of breeds, which can easily be “grafted” onto different strains through crossbreeding. For example, within the bleu de Gascogne breeds there is a basset. It is very similar to the long-legged petit and grand bleus de Gascogne. It has short-legs, and short legs define it as a basset. It probably derives from the longer-legged bleus being crossed with some form of basset.

Short-legged hounds are quite useful in hunting rabbits and hares while the hunter is on foot and especially if the hunter has a gun. Short-legged hounds will put pressure on the quarry and drive out in the open where it can be shot, or the slow running hounds will  put pressure on the prey to continue the chase.

France is the world’s leader in producing scenthound breeds. I say this as an American, a nation that has produced many find scenthounds, but the French have been at it for centuries.  It is usually suggested, though with a bit of exaggeration, that the major scenthounds of Britain, which are also the root source for most North American hound breeds, are all derived from French strains.  After all, hunting with hounds in England was always the realm of the wealthy and high positioned, and for many centuries, the noble class of Britain largely consisted of French or French-speaking gentry.  It would have made sense that they would have brought hounds from France into England and established them there as distinct scenthound types.

But until the 1870s,  there was never a native British basset breed.  For hares and rabbits, the British sporting men ran various forms of harrier and beagle. These are all longer-legged dogs with great endurance, and a beagle pack was usually attached to the leading boarding school in the country. Eton has a famous beagle pack even now, and these beagle packs were used to introduce the elite’s sons into the culture of sporting hounds.

In Picardy and Artois, a long-legged harrier type of hound was developed for much the same purpose. The Artois hound (or “Chien d’Artois) developed quite a bit of fame in French history as a superior hare hound. Some of these dogs are believed to behind the modern beagle, for this part of northern France is but a short distance across the channel from England.

But the British were uninterested in obtaining any of the basset breeds for hunting purposes.

However, in the nearby province of Normandy, a strain of basset was developed for hunting hares on foot. It was a grafting of the basset trait on the now extinct Normand hound, and someone began adding the same feature onto the Artois hound, producing the “Basset d’Artois.” These two breeds have since been combined into the modern Basset Artesien-Normand, but originally there were two breeds.   The Normand breed had crooked front legs, and the Artois had longer legs.

The Count le Couteulx de Canteleu kept a pack of the Artois basset, consisting of two distinct types. One was heavily built and usually tricolor or red and white. The other, which was said to be crossed with beagle, was usually lemon and white or tricolor. Another strain bred by Louis Lane of Normandy were gray and white or lemon and white and had very heavy bone. It is from these dogs that modern basset hound descends.

Eventually a few of these dogs wound up with George Edmund Milnes Monckton-Arundell, 7th Viscount Galway (“Lord Galway”) in the 1860s.  In the 1870s, these dogs became property of the William Hillier Onslow, 4th Earl of Onslow, (“Lord Onslow”), and they were the only pack of these hounds in the entire country, where they used to run hares

In 1874 Everett Millais, the son of the famous painter Sir John Everett Millais, took in a dog show at Paris’s Jardin d’Acclimatation.  At the time Millais was interested in dachshunds and decided to check out the breed in Paris and compare them to those in England. He had traveled to the continent to import some in 1870, and he was looking for more examples of what was then a novelty breed in England.

At this French dog show, however, there were two dogs of the basset Artesien-Normand-type being exhibited. He was instantly drawn to these bassets, eventually purchasing one, which he was named “Model.” The other hound also wound up in the hands of an English dog fancier, George Krehl, and this dog, which as named “Fino de Paris.”

Millais hadn’t been much into dog shows until he brought Model over, and it wasn’t long before he exhibited this new dog at English dog shows. The dog was much celebrated in the press, and the dog received the attention of Lord Onslow.  It wasn’t long before Model was being bred to his bitches, including some that he recently imported from The Count le Couteulx de Canteleu. George Krehl also joined in the breeding venture, and it wasn’t long before they had good-sized but very inbred population.

It was then that there were attempts to find an outcross. Beagles didn’t work, because the crosses just didn’t look or bay correctly.

So it was Millais who came up with the novel idea of crossing the basset with the bloodhound to save the breed.  The bloodhound bitch was bred to a basset using artificial insemination. The reason he wanted to use the bloodhound as an outcross is to perform what we know as genetic rescue but also add bone and stronger-scenthound features to the breed.

That cross was initially thought of as a way of helping this breed of basset in England, but what Millais essentially did was create an English basset breed. The French breeders of basset Artesien-Normand wanted their dogs to have more moderate bone and not be particularly large dogs, but when bloodhound was added to this breed, those traits took off in the English breed.

Millais, who had loved dogs but wasn’t particularly interested in showing them, eventually became the leading expert on bassets and dachshunds in England. Indeed our association with bassets and dachshund as being similar breeds is really an English concept. Millais believed dachshunds were a sort of German basset, and he argued extensively that dachshunds be bred with a stronger emphasis on their scenthound traits.

But he had created inadvertently crossed the bloodhound and the basset. Now we think of the basset hound and the basset Artesien-Normand as distinct breeds. Europeans continue breed for heavier and heavier boned English bassets, while the pack hounds still run through the North of France. North American basset breeders have tried their best to keep their dogs lighter built and less exaggerated. The dogs have proven themselves on our native lagomorphs, especially snowshoe hare. And now there is a large divide between North American and European-style bassets.

A few years ago, I suggested that the basset Artesian-Normand or even the Artois hound be reintroduced to the basset breed, but modern fanciers wouldn’t want that blood any more than Millais did.  European-style bassets are much larger than the old basset Artesian-Normand.  Some of these dog approach 90 pounds in weight, and the obese ones certainly exceed it.

In England, some bassets have been crossed some strain of native harrier to produce a lighter built hound.

And that certainly is an option.

But in Europe, the basset hound of England is very much a show dog.  It can be bred for exaggerated features because that’s what the fancy and the public ultimately want.

Indeed, I’ve come across people over here selling massive European-style bassets to the pet market for very high prices. Usually, these dogs are never shown in the AKC ring, because the AKC standard still calls for a much more moderate dog.

The Millais family hailed from Jersey in the Channel Islands, right between England and France, so it was very fitting that a family– with such an obvious French origin name– would be part of creating this English breed out of French stock.

The creation of the basset hound in England shows that just the odd desires of one person can led to sudden breed creation.  All it takes is just some odd trait or two to select for, and we suddenly have a breed.

Even if it was unintentional.

***

In a subsequent post, I am going to discuss another member of the Millais family and his love of dogs. Unlike Everett, this member was far less interested in dog shows and didn’t hold them in much esteem. He had a very different kind of dog, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

huddesfield ben

Huddersfield Ben, the main foundation stud behind the modern Yorkshire terrier

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been looking at golden retriever pedigrees.  One rather unusual thing about golden retrievers is that they are a common breed, but they have relatively complete pedigrees. They were created by elites in the United Kingdom, many of whom were students of English agricultural improvement.   For example, the Marjoribanks family, which founded the yellow strain of wavy-coats on which the breed is based, were active in breeding Aberdeen-Angus cattle, the famous “black Angus” that now dominate the beef market.

Golden retriever pedigrees are easily accessed online. This website has vast listing of goldens living and dead, and it isn’t hard to follow the links back from any backyard-bred dog to animals that might have sat next to Winston Churchill’s aunt or may have been shot over by George V.

But it is also easy to trace virtually any dog back to the foundation stock. The pedigrees merge after just a few generations. The popular sire effect is really strong in the breed, with certain males siring many puppies that went on to sire many puppies. The foundation stock for the breed appears to pretty diverse. Any line-breeding that exists is relatively loose. I find it hard to find early pedigrees in which someone bred tightly for more than a generation or two.

Retrievers were the dogs of the elite. They were bred from stock that had to serve a purpose, and what’s more, they came from diverse stock.  Every one of these breeds is a distillation of crosses of St. John’s water dogs.  They were bred much like lurchers are now.  Sir Bufton Tufton would breed his own sort of retriever, maybe crossing the St. John’s with a foxhound or perhaps he’d breed to a setter or a collie.   Lord Fauntleroy might say nuts to that, and he would breed Irish water spaniel dogs to his St. John’s bitches.

But they were still molded in the breeds we have today. Different features, such as the smooth coat of the Labrador retrievers or the tight curls of the curlies, would be selected for within the strains.  These strains eventually were molded into breeds that we know today, but it was a process that took place over 80 years or so.

Going through these golden retriever pedigrees, I’ve come to appreciate this process of formation, but my curiosity has been piqued.  We have very good records on the foundation of golden retrievers. Virtually no other breed has these records.

So I started perusing about the internet, looking into breeds I don’t really know that well.  Golden retriever pedigrees include listings of dogs that were alive in the 1860s. I began to wonder about what other breeds have parallel histories in this fashion.

Well, I found another common breed, the Yorkshire terrier, had a very different sort of breed foundation. They aren’t like retrievers at all.  In fact, their history is sort of the inverse of golden retrievers.

Golden retrievers have their foundation in Scotland. Their founders were among the elite who had made big money in England over the generations and were now living large across the Tweed. The Yorkshire terrier breed is derived from dogs belonging to Scottish migrant laborers who had come into the Industrial North of England to escape poverty and the Highland Clearances.  These Clearances were the Scottish Enclosure, and they made possible the vast estates that fell into the hands of the wealthy, who shot grouse and needed gun dogs to retrieve them

Laborers from Scotland brought the terriers south.  Terriers are useful dogs for the rural poor. They keep the rats down. Grain stores will always attract them.  You need a dog that will murder them.

And the Scottish working class had many sort of terriers, including several strains with silky coats.  Two of these breeds were developed into show dogs. The Skye terrier is still around, but there was another breed that was developed from that same stock. It was called the Paisley terrier, and it is from this breed that the Yorkshire terrier was created.

What essentially happened was that clothing factories in Lancashire and Yorkshire became breeding grounds for rats, and rough-bred strains of Paisley terriers were used to control them.

A woman living in Yorkshire named Mary Ann Foster (or “Mary Anne Foster” as some sources spell it) happened to obtain some of these factory rat catchers, and she exhibited them in shows.

And unusual dog of this strain was born in Huddersfield, and Ms. Foster wound up owning him.  He did very well at shows. He was called Huddersfield Ben, and over his short life of only six years, he was bred extensively to other dogs of this sort of Paisley-type terrier. Although it is almost impossible to find the pedigrees of these early Yorkshire terriers, it is likely that all Yorkshire terriers descend from him.

This dog’s pedigree was very tight.

pedigree ben

A sample golden retriever pedigree from roughly that time period is not nearly that tight.

The reason the golden retriever pedigree is not as tight is because there was a belief that retrievers should have some amount of crossbreeding, and these dogs were being bred by nobles with access to lots of different gundogs of different breeds. They had money and resources to develop strains much more slowly.

Yorkshire terriers arose in a different milieu. They came about when working and middle class people in the North of England wanted to produce a distinct show dog strain. These people did not have access to all the elite strains of terrier, and they did not have unlimited resources to devote to breeding programs.  In order to establish the strain, they bred very tightly.

The British Empire had long promoted “breed improvement” in livestock. Since roughly the year 1800, livestock showing became a major part of the common culture.  Livestock shows were widely attended, and the landowner or noble who produced the best strains of cattle, swine, sheep, and goats became much celebrated in the nation.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, these shows were a major part of British society,

But these big breed improvement shows were inaccessible to the working and middle classes. You have to have vast acreages to maintain herds of cattle and other hoofed stock, and anyone outside of the elite would have been unable to participate in these programs.

However, dog shows provided that outlet.  They were a way that the average man could participate in the elite’s game of producing new strains, and small terriers don’t require that much in terms of resources to maintain.

Yorkshire terriers come out of a society in which everyone wanted to produce animals for exhibition.  Breeding small terriers provided this opportunity.

To understand breed formation, it is important to understand the society in which these breeds were founded.  Britain in the nineteenth century was a class conscious society, but one in which people could move from the lower class to the upper middle class (at least in theory).  There was a tendency to imitate the nobility, even if this desire was inchoate or in defiance.

It is no wonder, then, that the foundation of Yorkshire terriers is almost the exact inverse of the founding of golden retrievers.  Different social classes do dogs differently.

So much about dogs is really about people, and the inverse foundations of these two popular breeds really does show it.

 

Bucks are starting to spar. Luckily, right in front of the game camera!

irma

The most pernicious delusion of our species is that we are somehow above nature. Ever since we chipped away at flint to make spear points or domesticated fire to do our bidding, we’ve contriving hard against nature.

But for the past 10,000 years or so, we’ve been in the process of wall-building. Domesticating grain species is a wall built against hunger that could come from depleted game herds.

But grain grows best only in certain areas, and thus, we’ve become sedentary and possessive. We’ve become better fighters to defend our lands. We’ve built better tools of war. A gun is a finely crafted rock-chucker.  An ICBM with a hydrogen bomb is little more than a super rock-chucker that throws a very deadly rock.

When diseases have developed as a result of our great concentrations of population, we’ve created sewage systems. We’ve developed medicines to defend ourselves against disease.

We have made it so our average lifespans are at least double what they were just centuries ago. The planet now teems with us.

And we all want walls to protect us.

We’ve spent so much time designing and contriving new ways of security, new ways of comfort, that in these wealthier countries, we live almost as aliens upon our own planet.

In the United States, we live in a sort of fairy tale fortress. The nuclear triad and our advanced airforce mean that no enemies are going to get us.  Most of us live in cities, where the only predators we’ll ever know are those belonging to our species. Air conditioning and mosquito control make the South livable, and insulation and fine furnaces make the North’s winters pass in comfort.

We have power, but that power is finite.

Very simply, there is isn’t a wall we can build of any kind that can stop a hurricane. We cannot nuke our way out of this threat. We are totally at its mercy.

Harvey, which dumped all that rain on Texas and Louisiana, ruined the best-laid plans of cotton farmers and urban planners.

The boiling seas off Africa are now sending us another.  This one is a vortex of water vapor and wind that no more cares that it is going to hit West Palm Beach than it would Winnipeg. It is mindless force of nature, and it is about to humble the sunny lands. It will cost billions of dollars.

And no presidential act, no bluster or official act, can stop what is coming. True, the warming planet makes these superstorms more likely, but the contribution our carbon-addicted economy did to create this storm was already cast into the atmosphere. Whether we elected the denialist or the one who didn’t deny it,  we were going to warm and warm anyway, and the storms will still come.

We are laid out vulnerable now. The millions of years of evolution and the thousands of years of civilization are but a veneer.  Before this coming storm, we are the Taung child, and the great eagle is stooping from the sky, talons poised.

We’ve spent much of our political energy over the past year or so engaged picayune squabbles. We’ve become obsessed with immigration, especially of how it relates to our so-called “national character.” We’ve elected a man who will keep us safe from the scary Mexicans and Muslims, as if those were the greatest threat we had to face.

We lost our minds about who gets to refuse service at the bakery and who gets to use what bathroom. We fought those wars of culture so long that they are so well-worn and threadbare that we no longer have a body politic. We have our factions now. That is the United States. States that are united in law but no longer in national purpose or understanding.

But while we were worrying about all these things, the planet warmed a bit more. We landed, then, one year on a bad roll of the dice, and the big storms are coming.

We could have spent this time working on building up a post-carbon economy, improving infrastructure, and developing innovative ways of flood control and evacuation procedures.

That’s what a rational people would have done with these past few years. The debate of the last presidential campaign would have largely been based upon those issues and not the worst sort of nationalist fear-mongering.

But we build the walls. We imprison more people in the world than any other, and yet we do not feel safe. We are armed to the teeth with more guns per capita than anywhere else, and yet we don’t sleep easy at night.

Income inequality and job insecurity eat away at our sound minds. We might have spent the last election fighting over those issues.  We chose differently.

Now the poor  are exposed to the drowning waters and the howling winds. It won’t be as bad as Katrina, we hope.

But no wall can stop what is coming.  It is coming. People will die.

No matter how advanced we are, the fortress cannot protect us.

We are vulnerable, exposed. And this is truly frightening for such a walled-off species.

 

 

cape vs east african

Cape jackal  (L) and East African black-backed jackal (R)

The molecular revolution in biology has caused a great deal of turmoil in the taxonomy of Canids. Long-time readers know that full-genome comparisons have recently found that the red wolf and Eastern wolf are hybrid between coyotes and wolves, and one implication of the recent origins of the coyote is that the coyote itself might be better classified as a subspecies of wolf. 

Mitochondrial DNA comparisons, though potentially erroneous in determining the exact time of divergence between species or subspecies, have also revealed that the “golden jackals” of Africa are much more closely related to wolves than Eurasian golden jackals.  Classifying African golden jackals is going to take more analysis of their genome, but they are either a species on their own or a subspecies of wolf. They have evolved in parallel with both the Eurasian golden jackal and the coyote.

We also know now that the red fox of the Old World is quite divergent from that of North America, enough that some authorities are reviving the old Vulpes fulva for the North American species.  Red foxes in the Eastern and Midwestern US are actually part of this endemic North American species and are not, as the folklore claimed, to be derived from seventeenth and eighteenth century introductions from England.

Recent mitochondrial DNA analysis also revealed that Eastern and Western gray foxes are perhaps separated by 500,000 years of evolution. 

So we’ve likely lost two wolf species in North America. The coyote’s validity is questionable. But we’ve gained either a wolf species or subspecies in Africa.  We have also potentially gained two species of fox in North America.

With all of these new findings in DNA studies, scientists are looking more and more closely at other long-established species.

Last week,  a study of the cytochrome b gene of black-backed and side-striped jackals revealed that these jackals, too, have some secrets.  Cytochrome b genes are part of the mitochondrial genome.

At one time these animals were considered part of Canis, but the current trend is to classify them in their own genus (Lupulella).* They are quite divergent from the rest of the wolf-like canids, much more so than dholes and African wild dogs are. If dholes and African wild dogs are in their own genera, then it makes sense that these two jackals should have their own genus name.

But if they are that divergent from the rest of Canis, then it’s very possible that there are other secrets, and this limited mtDNA study certainly raises some important questions.

The researchers found that the Cape subspecies and East African subspecies of the black-backed jackal (Lupulella mesomelas) actually diverged 2.5 million years ago.

I’ve always thought that there was a possibility of these two jackals being distinct species. The East African black-backed jackal has a shorter muzzle, comparatively larger ears, and usually lack the dense coat of the Cape jackal. The Cape jackal reminds me very much of Southwestern forms of coyote, with longer muzzle and thicker fur. What’s more is that the Cape jackal comes in a white and a golden phase that are not seen in the East African black-back.

If this deep divergence is confirmed in the full-genome or simple nuclear DNA studies that are very likely to be performed, then we likely have two species of what are called black-backed jackals now.

The researchers also found through this same analysis that the West African side-striped jackal diverged from the other two populations 1.4 million years ago, which certainly would raise some questions about its species status as well.

Again, we’re going to have to wait until full-genome analyses are performed, but I’ve always suspected that there are more than two species of endemic African jackal possessed some cryptic species.  I also have suspected that both side-striped jackals and black-backed jackals have hybridized a bit. This speculation could be revealed through the same full-genome or nuclear DNA studies that could examine the taxonomy within these supposed species.

Finally, the distribution of black-backed jackals is disjointed. The East African and Cape variants are separated by 800 miles. Several other small carnivorans have a similar distribution. The bat-eared fox and the aardwolf have disjointed distributions in which one population is in East Africa and the other in Southern Africa. It is very possible that similar deep genetic divergence exists within these species as well.

These potential cryptic species are worth investigating, and they certain put some of these “red wolf” controversies with in proper perspective.  If that 2.5 million-year divergence is upheld within the black-backed jackal populations, it really does become hard to justify the red wolf.  It is descended from two putative “species” that really aren’t that divergent at all by comparison.

 

 

 

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*A bit errata:  I initially called the new scientific name of the side-striped jackal Lupulela adustus, which is just a modification of Canis adustus.  Most of the literature I’m corrects the gender to Lupulella adusta.

qinling panda

Hundreds of species concepts exist, and within these concepts there are great controversies. As long time readers know, I am very skeptical of the validity of the red and Eastern wolves as distinct species, and I am even more controversial in that I think that the recent genome-wide analysis on coyotes and wolves have made question whether coyotes really should be thought of as a distinct species from wolves. I certainly don’t think it is controversial that wolves and dogs are the same species, but I’ve been drawn into long, drawn-out discussions about this subject.

If we accept these genome comparison studies (one that looked at wolves and domestic dogs and one that looked at wild North American wolves and coyotes), all North American Canis species, wild and domestic, have diverged from common ancestor within the past 50,000 years. There has been significant gene flow between wolves and coyotes across North America, including Alaska and Yellowstone National Park, where the wolves are said never to breed with coyotes,  and there is even more significant gene flow between wolves and domestic dogs in Eurasia.

These animals do not fit Ernst Mayr’s concept of species at all in which reproductive isolation is the most important feature. A species is a population of organisms that can reproduce and bring about fertile offspring.  Wolves, dogs, and coyotes can do these things.

Mayr’s concept has been criticized quite a bit because there are things that do reproduce and produce fertile offspring, but it doesn’t happen very much. Further, these two species could have been distinct for a very long time, such as the Grevy’s and plains zebra, which split about a million years ago but still are capable of producing fertile offspring.

Further, we’ve since gone into a different way of classifying animals in which descent from common ancestry is more important than arbitrary lines based upon more subjective features. This newer way of classifying organisms is called cladistics, and it fits with a way of organizing life that is deeply appreciative of evolution.

I prefer this way, but it certainly leads to controversy. If I say that dogs are wolves, am I endorsing an entire ways of viewing them that aren’t science-based at all. The arguments for strict dominance training models are based upon poorly designed studies of wolves, and the arguments for feeding dogs raw meat and bones are also based upon an appeal to nature argument that dogs are wolves.

But I am not making those arguments at all. I am simply placing dogs within the proper clade to which they belong in the wild bush that we once called the tree of life. I think, more controversially, that coyotes should be given the same proper placement.

My arguments for this classification have to do with the fact that gene flow still exists among all three populations and their very recent common ancestry.

This classification has to be put into perspective. For example, Old World and North American red foxes split from a common ancestor some 400,000 years ago.  A very good case can be made that red foxes are actually two species, just based upon that genome-wide analysis alone. There has been virtually no gene flow at all between the two red fox clades, except in Alaska, where some Old World foxes introgressed into the New World population there some 50,000 years ago.

There are also other species of large carnivora that ought to be recognized if we were paying a little more attention. The leopard of Java, commonly thought of as a insular dwarf of the common or spotted leopard, may have diverged from the rest of their species some 800,000 years ago. More recent estimates suggest that they split off about 600,000 years ago,

This leopard is not commonly thought of as a distinct species, but it is likely multitudes more distinct than wolves, coyotes, and dogs ever could be from each other. More study does need to be performed, of course, but it seems likely that the Javan leopard really is its own thing.

Perhaps the most compelling case for a hidden species in a large carnivoran that I’ve seen is the case of the Qinling panda. Currently, two subspecies of giant panda have been recognized in China. The more common type is black and white. It is the one commonly on loan to zoos in the West, and they are the pandas I saw as a boy at the Cincinnati Zoo.

But there is also a rarer form that is found only the Quinling mountains. It was always thought of as odd because it is brown and white, rather than black and white.  Because it is such an isolated population it was long suggested that its brown and white coloration was the result of inbreeding, and that may still be the case.

In 2005, this brown and white panda was given its own subspecies, usually just called the Qinling panda.

Full genome comparison of both forms of panda have revealed that they are quite distinct from each other. The two forms split 300,000 years ago,

Full genome comparisons revealed that coyotes and wolves split only 50,000 years ago. The same analysis revealed a much, much deeper division in giant pandas. Genomes revealed that there is a panda that really should be its own species. Call it the Qinling panda or the brown panda.

But moving this animal to a full species would mean that we have a very endangered species. There are no more than 300 Qinling pandas in the world, and it could be quite difficult to protect them.

The coyote and red and Eastern wolf problems revealed in genome comparisons are also quite complex. The coyote is in no way endangered. It has vastly expanded its range since European settlement– pretty much all of North America but the High Arctic has coyotes now.  The red and Eastern wolves have genes from now defunct wolf populations. Both of these wolves will continue to cross with coyotes, and the only way to keep them from becoming totally swamped with coyote blood is to keep coyotes out of their ranges, a nearly impossible task.

Meanwhile, Eastern coyotes with wolf ancestry are evolving larger bodies. They are refining pack-hunting behavior.  They are evolving into a sort of larger, pack-hunting wolf on their own.

What this means for wolf taxonomy and wolf conservation is really a complex question, but I don’t think this question can be answered until we fully account for the problems caused by both the recent split of wolves from coyote and the continued gene flow between them.

It is a question that really cannot be answered unless we’re looking at the broader picture.  They are nearly as distinct from each other as many other animals that we are conventionally classifying as a single species now.

 

 

 

 

 

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