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J Hered. 1993 Nov-Dec;84(6):450-9.

Molecular genetic and morphological analyses of the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus).

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Department of Biology, University of California, Los Angeles 90024.


African wild dog populations have declined precipitously during the last 100 years in eastern Africa. The possible causes of this decline include a reduction in prey abundance and habitat; disease; and loss of genetic variability accompanied by inbreeding depression. We examined the levels of genetic variability and distinctiveness among populations of African wild dogs using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) restriction site and sequence analyses and multivariate analysis of cranial and dental measurements. Our results indicate that the genetic variability of eastern African wild dog populations is comparable to that of southern Africa and similar to levels of variability found in other large canids. Southern and eastern populations of wild dogs show about 1% divergence in mtDNA sequence and form two monophyletic assemblages containing three mtDNA genotypes each. No genotypes are shared between the two regions. With one exception, all wild dogs examined from zoos had southern African genotypes. Morphological analysis supports the distinction of eastern and southern African wild dog populations, and we suggest they should be considered separate subspecies. An eastern African wild dog breeding program should be initiated to ensure preservation of the eastern African form and to slow the loss of genetic variability that, while not yet apparent, will inevitably occur if wild populations continue to decline. Finally, we examined the phylogenetic relationships of wild dogs to other wolf-like canids through analysis of 736 base pairs (bp) of cytochrome b sequence and showed wild dogs to belong to a phylogenetically distinct lineage of the wolf-like canids.

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