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Sci Rep. 2019 Jan 16;9(1):148. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-37331-x.

Two decades of non-invasive genetic monitoring of the grey wolves recolonizing the Alps support very limited dog introgression.

Author information

1
Laboratory for Conservation Biology, Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biophore Building, University of Lausanne, CH-1015, Lausanne, Switzerland.
2
Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Alfred Denny Building, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, United Kingdom.
3
KORA, Carnivore Ecology and Wildlife Management, Thunstrasse 31, CH-3074, Muri, Switzerland.
4
Fauna Découverte, Pré-Girard 18, CH-2067, Chaumont, Switzerland.
5
Laboratory for Conservation Biology, Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biophore Building, University of Lausanne, CH-1015, Lausanne, Switzerland. luca.fumagalli@unil.ch.

Abstract

Potential hybridization between wolves and dogs has fueled the sensitive conservation and political debate underlying the recovery of the grey wolf throughout Europe. Here we provide the first genetic analysis of wolf-dog admixture in an area entirely recolonized, the northwestern Alps. As part of a long-term monitoring program, we performed genetic screening of thousands of non-invasive samples collected in Switzerland and adjacent territories since the return of the wolf in the mid-1990s. We identified a total of 115 individuals, only 2 of them showing significant signs of admixture stemming from past interbreeding with dogs, followed by backcrossing. This low rate of introgression (<2% accounting for all wolves ever detected over 1998-2017) parallels those from other European populations, especially in Western Europe (<7%). Despite potential hybridization with stray dogs, few founders and strong anthropogenic pressures, the genetic integrity of the Alpine population has remained intact throughout the entire recolonization process. In a context of widespread misinformation, this finding should reduce conflicts among the different actors involved and facilitate wolf conservation. Real-time genetic monitoring will be necessary to identify potential hybrids and support an effective management of this emblematic population.

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