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Hybridization Dynamics between Wolves and Coyotes in Central Ontario

On September 5, 2018, the Wolf Conservation Center hosted a webinar with wildlife research biologist John F. Benson to discuss hybridization dynamics between eastern wolves and coyotes.

Eastern wolves (Canis lycaon) have hybridized extensively with coyotes (C. latrans) and gray wolves (C. lupus) in Ontario but little is known about the mechanisms underlying Canis hybridization. Benson discussed his intensive field study in Algonquin Provincial Park (APP) and the adjacent unprotected landscape where he investigated Ontario canids, hybrid zone dynamics, wolf ecology, and canid predation.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER

John Benson is an assistant professor of vertebrate ecology at the University of Nebraska. He is currently working on a number of collaborative research projects around North America on wolves, caribou, mountain lions, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and white sharks. He previously modeled population viability of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains as part of a collaborative study with the National Park Service and UCLA. John earned his Ph.D. studying hybridization dynamics between wolves and coyotes in central Ontario. Before beginning his PhD, he studied the highly endangered Florida panther as a research scientist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. As a master’s student, John led field operations for a reintroduction effort with federally threatened Louisiana black bears. This involved capturing females and their newborn cubs in tree dens and releasing them in areas of suitable habitat where they had been extirpated. John did his undergraduate degree in wildlife at Humboldt State University in northern California and previously worked on studies with sea birds, red foxes, Polar bears, Canada lynx, and mountain lions before starting graduate school.

Learn More:

Eastern (Algonquin) Wolf - Basic Information

EASTERN WOLF (ALGONQUIN WOLF) DESCRIPTION:

» Scientific Name: Canis lycaon (According to recent genomic research, eastern wolves, previously considered a subspecies of gray wolf, Canis lupus lycaon, actually represent a separate species.)

» Status in Canada: Threatened. 

» Status in Ontario: "Threatened" means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it.

Name Change: Eastern Wolf renamed "Algonquin Wolf"on June 14, 2016

» The Eastern Wolf was listed as special concern when the Endangered Species Act took effect in 2008, and was renamed Algonquin Wolf and re-classified as threatened on June 15, 2016. Status assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and by the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO) refer to the same taxonomic entity (group of animals). However, COSSARO concluded that Eastern Wolf is no longer the appropriate common name. Although there was once a distinct species called Eastern Wolves, a long history of hybridization among Eastern Wolves, Grey Wolves, and Coyotes, has led to a hybrid taxon that is evolutionarily distinct from other canids. As a result, COSSARO believes that a new name, the Algonquin Wolf, is most appropriate. 

» Read the assessment report.

Season Closures for Hunting and Trapping Wolf and Coyote

» September 15, 2016, the very day Ontario's hunting and trapping seasons opened, the Ontario government announced that despite the its new "threatened" status, the province is limiting protection of Algonquin wolves to three small, disconnected ‘islands’, keeping all others areas open to hunting and trapping. These islands constitute less than 10% of the wolves’ habitat in Ontario. Under Ontario's ESA, all threatened and endangered species and their habitat are automatically protected. Yet the threatened Algonquin wolves will remain unprotected from hunting and trapping in the majority of their range. 

» View Ontario's decision notices here and here.

» Threats: The Eastern wolf has disappeared from almost all of southern Ontario, largely as a result of loss of habitat through forest clearance and farmland development. Hybridization could also be a potential long-term threat to the genetic integrity of Eastern Wolf populations.

» Population:  Less than 500 (Most Eastern wolves live in central Ontario and western Quebec, and with the highest population densities found in Algonquin Provincial Park.)

» Weight: 55-65 pounds

» Color/Appearance: Fur is thick and can be variations of redish-brown with black and gray guard hairs.

 

DIET:

Eastern wolves are classified as carnivores, they white-tailed deer, moose and beaver.

 

COMMUNICATION:

Eastern wolves communicate in a number of ways. They use body language, scent marking and varied vocalizations to express themselves. Ask anyone about wolf vocalizations, however, it will be the howl that comes to mind. Howling helps keep family members (or pack-mates) together. Because a pack territory range over sometimes vast areas, it’s not unusual for members of the pack to become separated from one another. Wolves can call to one another over great distances by howling. A howl’s low pitch and long duration is well suited for transmission on the wild landscape – a wolf’s howl can be heard miles away in open terrain. Free Public Wolf Howl Programs with Park naturalists have been drawn thousands fo tourists from around the world to Algonquin Provincial Park, the stronghold of eastern wolves, to hear the the howl of these elusive wolves. Wolves have been known to respond to human imitations of wolf howls from almost 3 miles away.

 

HABITAT:

The Eastern wolf lives in forests – deciduous and mixed forests in the southern part of their range, and mixed and coniferous forests further north. Home ranges can be as large as 300+ square miles.

 

FAMILY LIFE:

Eastern wolves live in family packs, typically consisting of an unrelated breeding pair and their pups from previous litters. Average pack saize is three to six animals. 

 

Portions excerpted from Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry website.

Photo: Steve Dunsford, Impressions of Algonquin

Eastern (Algonquin) Wolf Online Resources and Research
Northeast Wolf Coalition

The Northeast Wolf Coalition was established in March, 2014 as an alliance of conservation organizations in Maine, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut and beyond. 

Vision Statement

The Coalition envisions ecologically effective wolf populations in healthy, diverse ecosystems managed as a public trust across North America. 

Mission Statement

  • Establish trans-boundary cooperative relationships with federal, state, and provincial agencies, organizations, and the general public.
  • Promote public education, outreach, and research programs about the value of wolves and other large carnivores.
  • Encourage states to modify regulations about coyotes, hybrids and other wild canids to facilitate wolf recovery throughout the region.
  • Encourage collaboration about wolf recovery and conservation across interest groups whether consumptive or non-consumptive.
Eastern Wolf Survey

The Eastern Wolf Survey focuses on research, outreach, and education for improved wolf conservation. 

Research

For several years, EWS has been collecting noninvasive wolf and coyote samples in southern Ontario and Quebec to refine our understanding of Eastern Wolf distribution. Based on genetic profiles from scat, urine/blood on snow, or hair, they can identify what species an individual is and whether or not it is a mixture of different types. 

Outreach

With funding from the Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Fund and co-operation of Ontario Parks and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry, EWS has hosted wolf conservation outreach programs for senior high school students in Algonquin Provincial Park for the past two years.

Education

Top predators are an important component of healthy, naturally-regulated ecosystems. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has recently recommended a Threatened status for the Eastern Wolf so recovery plans are soon to follow.