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Monday, November 16, 2009

Three Canids Form A Strange Group

When Charles Darwin visited the Falkland Islands during the voyage of the Beagle in 1835, he saw a wolf-like species, wrote about it in his diaries and correctly commented that it was being hunted in such large numbers that it would soon become extinct. Darwin was baffled by how this animal got on the islands, and it figured heavily in the formation of his ideas on evolution by natural selection.

The wolf was the only terrestrial mammal on the island, but was it brought to the Falklands, less than 300 miles from the mainland of South America, by humans or did it somehow get there by itself?

Scientists have analyzed DNA samples from five Falkland Islands wolves and calculated how long ago those five wolves shared a common ancestor.

"It was at least 70,000 years ago — well before humans came to the New World," Slater said.

"The Falkland Islands wolf clearly precedes any possible human occupation of the New World, which dates back some 12,000 to 13,000 years."

Darwin hypothesized that the Falkland Islands wolf, which became extinct in 1876, may have come to the islands on icebergs. Wayne and Slater think Darwin may be right.

"A large, wolf-size animal could perhaps live on a large iceberg with penguins and sea birds and maybe seals — enough prey to survive the voyage.

The closest relative to the Falkland Islands wolf, the biologists report, is an odd South American dog species called the maned wolf, which looks nothing like the Falklands species.

"The closet living relative of the maned wolf is the bush dog, which is even more different," Slater said. "These three are a strange group." link


Triplicate Girl © DC Comics
Ref.: Evolutionary history of the Falklands wolf. 2009. G. J. Slater. Et al., Current Biology, Volume 19: R937-R938.