Monday, July 8, 2013

Wolves back in the Netherlands?

The Naturalis Biodivsersity Center in Leiden, Netherlands in investigating an interesting case this week.

Last Thursday close to the small dutch village of Luttelgeest animal body remains were discovered. So far the species identity is not clear and there are chances that this could be the first wolf encounter in the Netherlands in 150 years.

Several press releases reported that the researchers will confirm the species identity with DNA Barcoding. I have to admit that I have my doubts about that. There were no details on how the carcass looked like but some articles claim that the animal was likely killed the night before it was found which means the body is rather intact. The only other animal that comes to mind is a dog which is the same species, Canis lupus. Many consider the dog as a subspecies. As I am not a firm believer in any subspecies concept I consider them members of the same species, one of them - the wolf - being the ancestral form, the other the product of artificial selection.

A quick look on BOLD shows that COI is ill-equipped to distinguish between dog and wolf. My best bet would be the use of short tandem repeat (STR) markers that have variants specific to wolves and Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) to compare with certain dog breeds that are commonly used to produce hybrids. Such population assignments and admixture analyses determine the likelihood that the subject animal is a dog, wolf or even a hybrid. 

Undoubtedly a perhaps very exciting find but it is not a case were DNA Barcoding can help with. Actually if the carcass is not damaged too much it should be possible for an expert mammalogist to identify the species based on good old morphology.

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