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Is the Ecological Role of Canids as Important as Evolutionary History?

eastern wolf

Today on International ‪Darwin Day‬, we celebrate the amazing evolution stories that continue to unfold right underneath our noses!

But we also ask: Is the ecological role of species (canids in particular) as important as their evolutionary history?

Arguments about wolf management and conservation can quickly descend into trying to reconstruct the past. What wolf really belongs in the East? Were gray wolves there? Are Canadian gray wolves the same as Rocky Mountain wolves? Where do other wild canids with hybrid origin fit in?

Historical records don’t help. European explorers were not taxonomists, let alone geneticists. And so obsessing over what canine belongs where can seem a futile quest.

Geneticist Linda Rutledge proposes another way to approach canid conservation: focus on the ecosystem not the species. “Let’s quit trying to make wolves fit into our neat little taxonomic boxes. Let’s focus instead on how to protect and restore their critical role as top predators.”

Since hybridization, in its many forms, is an important part of adaptation, evolution and speciation, should endangered species legislation “evolve” to reflect the potential conservation value of hybrids?


(Photo © 2016 Steve Dunsford)