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Posts Tagged ‘golden jackal’

African golden wolf (Canis anthus).

African golden wolf (Canis anthus).

A study was released today in the journal Current Biology that will radically change how we classify the genus Canis.

Using genome-wide analysis, researchers led by Klaus-Peter Koepfl found that African golden jackals, including those that have recently been classified as African wolves (Canis lupus lupaster), are all genetically distinct from Eurasian golden jackals.

But they are also distinct enough from wolves to be considered their own species, which has been posited as Canis anthus, the African golden wolf. Previous studies had suggested that certain African golden jackals were actually a primitive form of wolf, but these studies were based upon mitochondrial DNA alone.

This study compared a relatively large sample of nuclear DNA from several related Canis species, and it found that golden jackals of Eurasia and those of Africa were not even closely related to each other. African golden jackals split from the coyote/wolf lineage some 1.3 million years ago, while Eurasian golden jackals split off about 1.8 million years ago.

This pretty much ends the question of Canis lupus lupaster, but it does create an interesting question.

In the Guardian‘s article on the study, Koepfli thinks that the reason these two species, the golden jackal of Eurasia and the African golden wolf,  were considered the same species is because of parallel evolution.

I actually disagree with this assessment. If you go back and start looking at fossils of old wolf-like canids, they all start to look very jackal-like.

Indeed, as I’ve pointed out here many times, the black-backed and side-striped jackals are quite genetically divergent from the other wolf-like canids. They are more genetically distinct from the rest of Canis than the African wild dog and the dhole are, and both the dhole and African wild dog each has its own genus. (My remedy for this paraphyly in Canis is to put the dhole and African wild dog in Canis,  but it also could be solved by creating a genus for the side-striped and black-backed jackals, which is what I think the move will be).

The reason why these two jackals look like both forms of golden jackal and the coyote is that all of these animals represent primitive forms of Canis.  The ancestor of the large northern wolves that everyone knows was a coyote- or jackal-like canid, as was the ancestor of the African wild dog and the dhole.

“Primitive,” as I am using it here, means that an animal retains traits of the ancestor that sister taxa have lost. So in this perspective, the various jackal and coyote species still look very much like the common ancestor of all Canis.  This type of dog is quite versatile, for it is big enough to defend itself from many other predators but it is small enough to subsist on rodents and carrion.

So now, genome-wide studies have done the following to canid taxonomy:

1. Found that the eastern wolf and red wolf are recent hybrids between wolves and coyotes and are not actually an ancient wolf species.

2. Found that red foxes in North America may be a distinct species from those of Eurasia and North Africa

3. Found that there are two species in what we used to call the golden jackal: the African golden wolf and the Eurasian golden jackal, which we might just drop to “Eurasian jackal” for common nomenclature.

So we’ve lost two species in the dog family and gained two.

And I would argue that we should recognize the tanuki of Japan as a disctinct species from the rest of the raccoon dog species, and I would also argue that the island fox of the Channel Islands is a subspecies of the mainland gray fox. It is far less genetically distinct from the gray fox than the domestic dog is from the wolf.

We also need to do similar studies on South Indian and Himalayan wolves, which have distinct mtDNA lineage.

I would really like to know what the genome-wide analysis would reveal on those two wolves.

I would also like to see an examination of black-backed and side-striped jackal populations, because I suspect there is some interbreeding where the ranges of the two species overlap.

Jackals have never been really interesting to scientists studying the dog family, but it is likely that the first canids that wandered the camps of our hunter-gatherer ancestors were black-backed jackals. It was their barks that alerted us to approaching leopards, and they got to lick some of our pots and eat some offal.

But they never made the same leap that wolves did. It is for this reason alone that I think one should be skeptical of hypotheses on dog origin that rely upon scavenging and the inheritances flight distances alone as the determining factor. No one has seen a spotted jackal of any species or one with floppy ears, but they are the world champions of scavenging.

Jackals just lack the charisma of the larger dog species, but I do know that if I ever get to Africa, the first species I want to see is the black-backed jackal. Then we’ll worry about the big cats.

Yep. I’m that much of a canid enthusiast!

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Kent Hovind is out of prison, and seeing as he has a month of home confinement to waste time on the internet, he has been posting daily Q and A sessions on Youtube. Just e-mail him, and he’ll answer your question on Youtube.

So the other day, I sent him an e-mail with the following question:

Scottie Westfall Jul 22
To
TheDrDino@gmail.com (Kent Hovind)
Would you say that black-backed jackals, side-striped jackals, African wild dogs (Cape hunting dogs or painted dogs) and dholes (Asiatic wild dog) are part of the same kind that includes golden jackals, coyotes, wolves/domestic dogs/dingoes, and Ethiopian wolves?

Why would I ask this question?

Well, within the wolf-like canids, it is well-known that some species are still chemically interferitle. We have a nice phylogenetic tree, which was drawn from a sequencing of domestic dog genome:

dog family phylogentic tree

Domestic dogs are basic a type of “grey wolf,” so they certainly do interbreed.  One could make the case in a creationist sense that these animals are all part of the same “kind,” because a “kind” is generalized term that pretty much is based solely on whether they can “bring forth”– produce offspring. Wolves and dogs have interbred and produced fertile offspring with coyotes and golden jackals. Golden jackals and coyotes have done the same. Ethiopian wolves (which are a really specialized canid that is found only in the Ethiopian Highlands) have interbred with domestic dogs, and in some instances, there have been viable, fertile hybrids produced.

By the Biblical definition of kind, these animals fit.

However, interfertility stops with the Ethiopian wolf. Although there are rumors of hybrids being produced between dogs and dholes and between dholes and golden jackals, we have no verified hybrids. There are claims that the Bangkaew dog started out as a dhole/domestic dog hybrid, but I’ve never seen anyone confirm this ancestry in the breed.

When this phylogenetic tree was drawn, it really did change the way we view jackals. When I was a kid, we tended to think of all the jackals as being closely related. We even called the Ethiopian wolf the “Simien jackal.”  But even before this study came out, it was pretty clear that the canid of the Ethiopian Highlands was closer to the wolves than the other endemic African jackals.

But this study revealed that golden jackals are even more closely related to wolves/dogs and coyotes than to the other jackals, and that the two endemic African jackals, the side-striped and black-backed jackals, are actually more distantly related to the interfertile canids than African wild dogs and dholes are. African wild dogs and dholes have traditionally been given their own genus names (Lycaon and Cuon), but those two endemic African jackals have always been listed as part of Canis. We now think of Canis as a paraphyletic grouping, which means it is not a clade. To make it a clade, we would have to move the African wild dog and the dhole into Canis, which is what I would do, or create a new genus for the two endemic African canids.

In an earlier video, Kent Hovind was answering a question about the kinds of animals on the ark, and he said something along the lines of how jackals, wolves, coyotes, and dogs are all descended from a single dog “kind” that was put on the ark.  (In that video, Hovind actually claimed that hyenas were part of the dog kind, which isn’t even close to being true).

But if a “kind” is defined as what can produce offspring, we have a very hard big problem here. When a creationist says “jackal,” I don’t think they understand that the three species of jackal are actually quite distinct from each other. You cannot breed a black-backed jackal to a dog, even if people claim that basenjis are derived from them, or that they have an African village dog that looks like one. The two species are very distinct from one another.

So if these animals all are distinct kinds, then God had Noah put several ancestral Canis-type dogs on the ark.  Black-backed and side-striped jackals probably can interbreed, but their genomes haven’t been studied in the interfertile Canis species have been. So that would be a kind. Dholes and African wild dogs probably can hybridize as well, so that would be another kind. And then you’d have the classic “dog kind, ” which has all the wolf-like species that hybridize a lot.

So we’d have these three separate kinds, but why?

Wouldn’t an intelligent deity just want one dog kind?

I mean, a Western coyote and a black-backed jackal are essentially the same organism in terms of their behavioral ecology. They hunt small animals. They gang up and hunt ungulates, and they do a lot of scavenging. They both have intense pair bonds, and they do cause problems with livestock producers.

Why would there have to be two separate “kinds” for this mid-sized, generalist canid?

Well, Hovind tried to answer my question, and he did very poorly. Now, I must confess that he was answering a bunch of questions about the flat earth and geocentrism (which many of his most devout followers wish he believed in), so I don’t think he was expecting a question like mine or understood its significance.

Here’s his answer (and he thinks my name is Daniel):

Source.

He tells me to go look up Baraminology, which I did.

But when I went to Answers in Genesis, I found that they fell into exactly the same trap as Hovind.

They point out that there was a discovery a few years ago that there were some “golden jackals” in Africa that were found to be a primitive lineage of wolf. Now, these are not Ethiopian wolves. People mess this up all the time. These are African wolves (Canis lupus lupaster), and they are actually pretty widespread. Populations of these wolves have been found as far from Ethiopia as Senegal, and they do cross with golden jackals there.

But note that the African wolves are breeding with GOLDEN jackals, and they were being confused with GOLDEN jackals. We know that golden jackals are close to wolves and domestic dogs, and they do hybridize.

One could make the case that golden jackals are part of the same “kind” that includes dogs, coyotes, and wolves, but you cannot say that black-backed and side-striped jackals are part of this same kind. They no more can cross with dogs than they a dog can with a petunia or a guinea pig.

So if you hear a creationist talking about jackals being part of the same “kind” as domestic dogs, just ask them about black-backed and side-striped jackals.

They don’t understand the problem with their reasoning at all.

Nor do they care.

***

AronRa has a nice video on canid evolution, though I do have few quibbles about it, such as the location of where dogs were domesticated and the size of some borophagine dogs, it gives you a good understanding of the problem when creationists mess around with interfertility in dog species.

Source.

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Egyptian jackal or African wolf with golden jackal and wolf-like features.

Egyptian jackal or African wolf with golden jackal and wolf-like features. From “Roosevelt in Africa” (1910).

One the strange ironies about dogs is that we have set up a system in which populations are maintained without regular influxes of new blood. However, at no point in the evolutionary history was this ever the case.

Some dog fanciers maintain breeds as if they were distinct species, and in some breeds, one can find lore that they are derived from sort of wild canid that has nothing to do with wolves or the rest of dogdom. Chihuahuas are supposedly domestic variants of the fennec fox. The Japanese chin was said to be distinct species that belonged to its own genus.

But no matter how you slice it, domestic dogs are all one species, and what is even more important, the more we have found out about the genome and that of their closest relatives, the harder it becomes to think of them as a distinct species from the wolf.

And if that weren’t such a revelation, it really gets more bizarre when we have no learned that wolves, golden jackals, and coyotes are not the cut-and-dry species we assumed them to be. In Eastern Canada and the Northeastern US and Midwestern US, we have discovered that wolves and coyotes have hybridized a whole lot more than we realized. We have also found evidence that golden jackals and wolves have hybridized in Bulgaria. Both coyotes and golden jackals can cross with wolves or domestic dogs and produce fertile offspring.

To make things more complicated, it turns out that wolves and golden jackals have continued to exchange genes since the two species separated. A recent genome-wide study of modern dogs, wolves, and golden jackals revealed that Eurasian wolves and golden jackals continued to mate with each other after their initial separation. The authors found substantial gene flow between golden jackals and Israeli wolves, as well as the ancestral population to all wolves and domestic dogs.

Most North Americans are aware of the taxonomic controversies involving coyote and wolf hybrid populations, including the red wolf and the proposed “Eastern wolf” species, but it turns out that this problem also exists in the Old World.

There is now a debate as to whether certain sub-Saharan  and North African golden jackals are golden jackals or wolves. A few years ago, there were several studies that suggested that the mitochondrial DNA of certain African golden jackals were actually those of a primitive wolf lineage. There is still some debate as to whether these animals are wolves or jackals, and some of the proposed wolves have been found to hybridize with golden jackals in Senegal.

In utter ignorance of the natural history of wild Canis, domestic dog fanciers have spent the past century to century and half splitting up gene pools under the delusion that this somehow preserves them.  Never mind that for most of their suggested 2 or 3 million years on the planet, wild wolves have continued to exchange genes with their closest relatives. When species hybridize, it was always thought that this would be a negative, but in truth, hybridization can be source of genetic rescue. In the case of Eastern coyotes, crossing with wolves can introduce new genes for more powerful jaws and larger size, which make them better predators of deer. It can also introduce new MHC haplotypes, which can provide the animal with enhanced immunity to disease.

One way of looking at golden jackals and coyotes is they are actually themselves primitive wolves. This might sound a bit heretical, but if you were to go back into time and find the ancestor of all wolves, golden jackals, and coyotes, it would look more less like a golden jackal or coyote.  I would argue that these animals represent a sort of generalized template from which larger, more specialized forms can evolve. One of the problems in sorting out wolf, coyote, and jackal lineages from the fossil record is that at various times through their history on the planet, different lineages have evolved larger wolf-like sizes or have produced coyote or jackal-like forms to fit the niche in question.

A recent comparison of golden jackals, African golden jackals that might be wolves (Canis lupus lupaster or Canis lupaster), black-backed jackals, modern wolves, and the extinct Canis etruscus and Canis arnensis revealed that those the proposed African wolves had skull morphologies that were closer to known golden jackals and black-backed jackals. If these lupaster canids are actually wolves and not jackals, then we would have never been able to guess their identity upon morphology alone.

So while the dog fancy has been splitting hairs and arbitrarily dividing up gene pools, science has revealed that the wild dogs haven’t been doing the same.

Canis is not a closed registry.

Even the boundaries between wolves and golden jackals and between wolves and coyotes are blurry, and of course, this leaves out the rather significant gene flow that has occurred between domestic dogs and wild wolves. Black wolves and wolves with dewclaws on the hind legs are the result of dogs and wolves mating “in the wild.”

Science has found all of these wonderful things out, but the dog fancy remains stuck in another era.

Maybe someday it will move beyond the closed registry system and instead of offering up the bromide of “breed preservation,” it will adopt a system of “breed management,” which strives to maintain genetic diversity within a breed and allows regular influxes of outside blood.

That is what nature has allowed with the wild Canis.

That is the actual story of the animals of this genus. It is not one of one lineage remaining pure for millions or even thousands of years.

It is about significant hybridization.

And Canis is not the only genus with this hybridization issue. Ducks in the genus Anas hybridize quite a bit, and it is well-known that many species of whales and dolphins hybridize with their close kin as well. All of these animals are fairly mobile organisms, and their mobility is likely why they retain so much interfertility.  They simply cannot be reproductively isolated from their closest relatives long enough for them to lose chemical interfertility.

It is not something that should be thought of as an evil. Instead, it’s actually a major strength. It is one our own species utilized when we exchanged genes with the Neanderthals and Denisovan people, and if there were another human species alive today, we would likely be able to cross with it.

But because we are so alone in this world, it is difficult for us to understand the concept of a species complex. We are the only humans left.

But dogs and wolves are not the last of their kind.

The gene flow between wild and domestic and among the these three species of Canis is something we have difficulty imagining.

But it is the story of dogkind.

 

 

 

 

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Trail camera photo of a golden jackal in Estonia. Source.

Trail camera photo of a golden jackal in Estonia. Source.

One story that has missed much of the English-speaking press and English-speaking scientists is that the golden jackal’s range in Eastern Europe has now expanded to the Baltic nations of Latvia and Estonia.

Golden jackals don’t get much billing in the world of wolf-like canids, but they are closely related to wolves and coyotes. Indeed, one way to think of golden jackals and coyotes is they both represent rather primitive lineages of wolves, ones that are much smaller the typical wolf and retain the primitive body language, especially the gape threat. Both coyotes and golden jackals are chemically interfertile with wolves and domestic dogs

These smaller, more primitive wolves are actually doing pretty well and have expanded their range. Coyotes in North America now range from Alaska to Newfoundland down to southern Panama, and the golden jackal, which ranges across northern and East Africa across southern Asia to Cambodia, is also expanding its range.

Historically golden jackals made it up into the Caucasus and into the southern Balkans and Greece. They were well-established in the reed marshes of Hungary for several centuries, where they were called “reed wolves.”

However, in the past few decades, golden jackals have spread northward into Austria,  Slovakia and Southern Poland.  It was thought that these jackals would be unable to go deep into Eastern Europe, simply because golden jackals were thought to be unable to handle the cold very well or wolves would check their advance.

In 2011, though, something strange happened, a woman in Western Estonia (Lääne County heard unusual howls in the night.  In that a wildlife researcher named Liisi Laos found the tracks of unusual canid tracks in the same region. These tracks came from four individuals, and they were thought to be golden jackals.

In 2013,  hunting dogs killed a jackal, and now, it’s pretty much accepted that golden jackals are in Western Estonia.

Their range has also expanded into nearby Latvia, where they were confirmed last year.

The questions about these jackals are rampant. Because there was no record of jackals in northern Poland or in Lithuania, it was suggested that someone brought them in to Estonia. However, that suggestion seems less likely because it turns out that jackals are in Ukraine and Belarus. That means that the jackals of the Baltic could have come up from Romania or southern Poland into Ukraine and then up through Belarus into Latvia and Estonia. (Which would be the reverse of where they were first documented).

The reason these jackals remained undetected is because this region is not heavily populated. Eastern Europe is much, much wilder than the West, and the golden jackals could have been mistaken for young wolves and generally ignored.

There is some suggestion that climate change has allowed these golden jackals to colonize such a cold part of Europe, and there may be something to it. However, this part of Europe has much harsher winters than Western Europe, which means they could be on their way to colonizing all the way out to France, Spain, and Portugal.

Modern Europe isn’t such a bad place for a jackal, and we do know that a jackal-like canid lived in Europe during the Pleistocene. It was called Canis arnensis, and it could have been an ancestor of the golden jackal.  So there is some precedent for these sorts of canids in Europe. Indeed, one of the proposed ancestors of the modern wolf is Canis mosbachensis, and it was not much larger than a European golden jackal.

So maybe conditions are favorable for a little primitive wolf to colonize Europe once again.

And before anyone freaks out, I’ll just give you an idea of the size of the golden jackal in Europe.

This is a photo of an individual that was killed in Bulgaria.

European golden jackal size

We’re not even talking Eastern coyote-sized animals, but they could be important competitors for red foxes and the invasive raccoon dogs that have spread throughout the region.

So Europe might have its own little coyote very soon!

 

 

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"You guys don't want any. it tastes like ass."

“You guys don’t want any. It tastes like ass.”

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Melanistic golden jackal and normal-colored mate.. Photo courtesy of Can Bilgin and Hüseyin Ambarlı.

Melanistic golden jackal and normal-colored mate.. Photo courtesy of Can Bilgin and Hüseyin  Ambarlı.                                                

Melanism in dogs, wolves, and coyotes has been a source of great interest to molecular biologists in recent years.

For example, it has been confirmed that black coyotes and black wolves in Italy and North America gained their black coloration through cross-breeding with domestic dogs.

But domestic dogs have two variants of melanism. The most common form– and the type found in Italian and North American wolves and coyotes— is inherited via dominant allele. But there is another form, which is related to the sable coloration, that is inherited via a recessive allele. This recessive black may have been indicated in at least one Russian wolf, but all modern black wolves that have been examined thus far have turned out to be dominant blacks that inherited their black coloration from the introgression of domestic dog genes.

However, a recent discovery of a black golden jackal in northeastern Turkey might be the first example of a melanism in an interfertile Canis species that did not originate in the domestic dog.

Between February 2009 and April 2010, a camera trap near the city of Artvin captured images of this black golden jackal and its normal-colored mate.

The documentation of this jackal appears in the journal Mammalia in December 2012, and the authors suggest that this jackal likely did not receive its black coloration from its ancestors crossing with domestic dogs.

Although golden jackals and domestic dogs are interfertile, cross-breeding between them in the wild has not been documented– though it certainly is possible. The black coloration in red foxes is entirely unrelated to any of the black coloration in domestic dogs, and it is likely that this black jackal is the result of an entirely different mutation that has not yet been documented.

Unfortunately, no physical samples from this jackal exist, so we cannot know for certain what genetic mechanism made this jackal black.

As far as I know, no further black golden jackals have been documented in the area, so this individual either left no offspring or it is inherited via a recessive allele– and thus different from the dominant black in wolves and coyotes.

 

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A side-striped jackal (Canis adustus), the jackal no one talks about.

We’ve always called the smaller wild dogs in the genus Canis jackals.

Historically, there were four species of jackal:  the golden (Canis aureus), the black-backed (Canis mesomelas), the side-striped (Canis adustus), and the Simien (Canis simensis).

Some authorities considered they coyote (Canis latrans) to be a jackal, usually called “the American jackal.”

At one time, they were all placed in the genus Thous.

This, of course, assumed that these animals were all closely related to each other.

However, as we’ve looked at DNA analysis, the relationship between jackals shows that the term “jackal” is actually quite meaningless.

In 1994, an mtDNA study revealed that the Simien jackal had certain mtDNA sequences that were more similar to wolves than other jackals. It was thought to be a relict population of primitive wolves that came into Africa during the Pleistocene.

And from that time forth, the English name of this species was change to “Ethiopian wolf.”  I don’t call it anything else.

However, as more work was performed on jackals, certain facts became evident.

Initial studies of black-backed, side-striped, and golden jackal mtDNA revealed that black-backs in East Africa had huge variances in their mtDNA. Golden jackals had mtDNA that was most similar to coyotes and wolves, while black backs and side-stripes were more similar to each other.

And then the phylogeny of the dog family was drawn from a high-quality sequencing of the dog genome revealed that golden jackals were much more closely related to coyotes and the wolf and domestic dog species than the Ethiopian wolf was. We still call them Ethiopian wolves, even though golden jackals are more closely related to actual wolves than those animals are.

The other issue revealed through this research was that Canis, as it is traditionally classified, is a paraphyletic genus. Modern taxonomy is generally concerned with classifying animals according clades. Clades are, by definition monophyletic. That is, they contain all the animals that descend from a particular lineage.

The dog genome research revealed that two species that are never traditionally classified as being part of Canis, the African wild (Lycaon pictus) and the dhole (Cuon alpinus), actually should be included there.  It turns out that black-backed and side-striped jackals are more distantly related to the rest of Canis than these two species are.

And if we classify Canis with all the jackals, the Ethiopian wolf, and  the wolf and dog species and leave out the dhole and African wild dog, we’ve created a paraphyletic genus that is not useful to modern taxonomy.

Some have suggested giving the two endemic African jackals their own genus.

And this would make Canis monophyletic without including the African wild dog and dhole.

However, the genus that would remain would include several species that are all chemically interfertile with each other (at least in theory). Species complexes exist throughout that part of the Canis, and delineating species is very difficult the species in this lineage.

Although Robert Wayne at UCLA has suggested that black-backed and side-striped jackals might be able to interbreed, no one has confirmed a hybrid between these two species. African wild dogs might be able to hybridize with dholes, but because they live on different continents and because they are both fairly endangered, no one has attempted to cross them. (There are persistent rumors that dholes can cross with domestic dogs. One dog breed, the Bangkaew dog from Thailand, is said to have derived from a dog/dhole cross. However, I don’t believe this claim has ever been tested through DNA analysis.)

All this research has revealed that how we have traditionally thought about the dog family is probably wrong.

The golden jackal is actually a primitive offshoot of the wolf lineage, just as the coyote in the New World is. The Ethiopian wolf is an even more primitive offshoot.

The two endemic African jackals are the two oldest living species in the Canis lineage. They are even more distinct from this lineage than dholes and African wild dogs are.

We do not have a good replacement word for jackal.

I’ve suggested that we call golden jackals “Old World coyotes” almost as a joke.

But I don’t have a good name for either of the two remaining jackal.

Because black-backed jackals are so scrappy, I’ve even suggested that we call them “wild Jack Russells.”

Whatever we call them, the term jackal, if it’s used to reflect close relationships between species, is utterly meaningless.

With the exception of the two found only Africa, it doesn’t refer to any animals that have a close relationship with each other.

It’s just a term we use for smaller wild dogs that are in some way related to wolves.

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