Back in September, I was lucky enough to get a few photos of a coyote that was spotted in a hayfield east of here. I was therefore quite interested in an interview I heard recently on Bob McDonald’s Quirks and Quarks on CBC Radio on October 3rd. Bob was speaking with Dr. Roland Kays, Curator of Mammals at the New York State Museum about Kays’ research on eastern coyotes. His paper, Rapid adaptive evolution of northeastern coyotes via hybridization with wolves, co-authored with Abigail Curtis and Jeremy Kirchman, appears in Biology Letters.
Coyotes (Canis latrans) are a western species. It wasn’t until 1920 that the first coyotes began to make their way into Ontario. Coyotes expanded their eastern range on two fronts, with one set travelling east from Minnesota via a route north of the Great Lakes into Ontario, while a second front continued east south of the Great Lakes. Kays and his partners studied the mtDNA from 686 eastern coyotes and measured 196 skulls. They found evidence that coyotes on the northern front hybridized with wolves as their expansion brought them into contact with their larger relatives, while the coyotes of the southern front did not. The hybrid northern coyotes found in Ontario are larger in size, have larger skulls and exhibit greater sexual dimorphism (a wolf trait) than is found in the non-hybrid coyotes that moved into New York and Pennsylvania
They suggest that hybridization allowed the northern coyotes to better exploit the niche left vacant by extirpated wolves. The larger skulls of these coyotes allowed them to better take advantage of the booming deer population, resulting in a colonization rate 5 times more rapid than that experienced by coyotes to the south. Hybridization is thus a conduit by which the genetic variation of an extirpated species, the wolf, has contributed to the success of a recently-arrived species and by which wolf genetics have been reintroduced into their former range.
You can listen to the interview on this Quirks & Quarks podcast. The coyote segment begins at the 42:40 minute point.