Substantial red wolf genetic ancestry persists in wild canids of southwestern Louisiana

Sean M. Murphy, Jennifer R. Adams, John J. Cox, Lisette P. Waits

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Concerns over red wolf (Canis rufus) extinction caused by hybridization with coyotes (C. latrans) led to the capture and removal of remnant wild wolves from southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas, United States, during the 1970s. Here we show that despite decades of unmitigated hybridization, and declaration of endangered red wolves as functionally extinct in the wild, red wolf mitochondrial or nuclear DNA ancestry persists in ∼55% of contemporary wild canids sampled in southwestern Louisiana. Surprisingly, one individual had 78–100% red wolf ancestry, which is within the range for 75% red wolf, red wolf backcross, or putative red wolf, depending on estimation method. Our findings bolster support for designation of red wolves as a distinct species, demonstrate a critical need for the United States Government to consider adopting an existing but unimplemented hybrid policy, and suggest that immediate reassessment of canid management and taxonomic designation in southwestern Louisiana may be warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12621
JournalConservation Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding was primarily provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (CAA #F15AC01292); supplemental funds were provided by Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Committee. We thank R. Gosnell, L. Miranda, and B. Leonard for logistical support; M. Clark and M. Keyes for assisting with laboratory analyses; and E. Carrollo, A. Petrullo, D. Leblanc, T. Frame, S. Hatfield, D. Peters, and multiple personnel with U.S. Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game for assisting with sample collections. Data are available in the Dryad Digital Repository (Murphy, Adams, Cox, & Waits,).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors. Conservation Letters published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • Canis rufus
  • Endangered Species Act
  • endangered
  • extinct
  • hybridization
  • recovery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


Dive into the research topics of 'Substantial red wolf genetic ancestry persists in wild canids of southwestern Louisiana'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this