U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Genomic analyses of gray fox lineages suggest ancient divergence and secondary contact in the southern Great Plains
Date of this Version
Journal of Heredity, 2023, 114, 110–119 https://doi.org/10.1093/jhered/esac060
The gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) lineage diverged from all other extant canids at their most basal node and is restricted to the Americas. Previous mitochondrial analysis from coastal populations identified deeply divergent (up to 1 Mya) eastern and western lineages that predate most intraspecific splits in carnivores. We conducted genotyping by sequencing and mitochondrial analysis on gray foxes sampled across North America to determine geographic concordance between nuclear and mitochondrial contact zones and divergence times. We also estimated the admixture within the contact zone between eastern and western gray foxes based on nuclear DNA. Both datasets confirmed that eastern and western lineages met in the southern Great Plains (i.e. Texas and Oklahoma), where they maintained high differentiation. Admixture was generally low, with the majority of admixed individuals carrying <10% ancestry from the other lineage. Divergence times confirmed a mid-Pleistocene split, similar to the mitochondrial estimates. Taken together, findings suggest gray fox lineages represent an ancient divergence event, far older than most intraspecific divergences in North American carnivores. Low admixture may reflect a relatively recent time since secondary contact (e.g. post-Pleistocene) or, alternatively, ecological or reproductive barriers between lineages. Though further research is needed to disentangle these factors, our genomic investigation suggests species-level divergence exists between eastern and western gray fox lineages.
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