Research Finds Urban Coyotes are Genetically Distinct from Coyotes in Natural Habitats
A team of scientists from Pepperdine University and the National Park Service have uncovered genetic differences in urban-dwelling coyotes compared to their more rural counterparts. The research, published in Journal of Urban Ecology, offers insight into the effects of urbanization on wildlife populations.
Researchers collected genetic samples from 125 coyotes in Southern California and found evidence of four distinct genetic populations in Greater Los Angeles; three populations with low genetic diversity were associated with urbanized habitats in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and the remaining population consisted of geographically widespread and genetically diverse individuals associated with vegetated mountainous areas. These findings indicate that natal habitat-biased dispersal (the tendency of an animal to move to an area resembling their natal home because they’re behaviorally better suited for that environment) can result in coyote populations that are geographically isolated but genetically similar. Data also suggests that as urbanization increases, genetic diversity of a population decreases due to habitat fragmentation, barriers to dispersal, etc.
As the researchers explained, “urban coyotes presumably transmit urban survival skills to their pups, and once the pups grow and disperse, they settle in an urban habitat similar to the one that they were trained in by their parents. Over time, natal habitat-biased dispersal would result in urban coyote populations becoming genetically distinct from populations in natural habitats.”
These findings indicate a need for increased monitoring of the impact human activities can have on the genetic diversity of animals. The combined effects of urbanization are impacting the evolution of particular coyote populations and are presumably impacting other urban-dwelling species as well.