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Published in PLoS ONE 3(10): e3333. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003333 Copyright (c) 2008 Hailer et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Background: Population densities of many species throughout the world are changing due to direct persecution as well as anthropogenic habitat modification. These changes may induce or increase the frequency of hybridization among taxa. If extensive, hybridization can threaten the genetic integrity or survival of endangered species. Three native species of the genus Canis, coyote (C. latrans), Mexican wolf (C. lupus baileyi) and red wolf (C. rufus), were historically sympatric in Texas, United States. Human impacts caused the latter two to go extinct in the wild, although they survived in captive breeding programs. Morphological data demonstrate historic reproductive isolation between all three taxa. While the red wolf population was impacted by introgressive hybridization with coyotes as it went extinct in the wild, the impact of hybridization on the Texas populations of the other species is not clear.

Methodology/ Principal Findings: We surveyed variation at maternally and paternally inherited genetic markers (mitochondrial control region sequence and Y chromosome microsatellites) in coyotes from Texas, Mexican wolves and red wolves from the captive breeding programs, and a reference population of coyotes from outside the historic red wolf range. Levels of variation and phylogenetic analyses suggest that hybridization has occasionally taken place between all three species, but that the impact on the coyote population is very small.

Conclusion/Significance: Our results demonstrate that the factors driving introgressive hybridization in sympatric Texan Canis are multiple and complex. Hybridization is not solely determined by body size or sex, and density-dependent effects do not fully explain the observed pattern either. No evidence of hybridization was identified in the Mexican wolf captive breeding program, but introgression appears to have had a greater impact on the captive red wolves.