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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Phylogeographic history of grey wolves in Europe

Małgorzata Pilot1*, Wojciech Branicki23, Włodzimierz Jędrzejewski4, Jacek Goszczyński5, Bogumiła Jędrzejewska4, Ihor Dykyy6, Maryna Shkvyrya7 and Elena Tsingarska8

Author Affiliations

1 Museum and Institute of Zoology, Polish Academy of Sciences, ul Wilcza 64, 00-679 Warszawa, Poland

2 Institute of Forensic Research, ul Westerplatte 9, 31-033 Kraków, Poland

3 Department of Genetics and Evolution, Institute of Zoology, Jagiellonian University, Ingardena 6, 30-060 Kraków, Poland

4 Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, 17-230 Białowieża, Poland

5 Department of Forest Zoology and Game Management, Warsaw University of Life Sciences - SGGW, ul Nowoursynowska 159, 02-776 Warsaw, Poland

6 Department of Zoology, Biological Faculty, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Hrushevskogo str 4, 79005 Lviv, Ukraine

7 The Schmalhausen Institute of Zoology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Bohdan Khmelnitsky str 15, 01601 Kyiv, Ukraine

8 BALKANI Wildlife Society, Str T Tserkovski 67/V - 3, Sofia, Bulgaria

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:104  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-104

Published: 21 April 2010

Abstract

Background

While it is generally accepted that patterns of intra-specific genetic differentiation are substantially affected by glacial history, population genetic processes occurring during Pleistocene glaciations are still poorly understood. In this study, we address the question of the genetic consequences of Pleistocene glaciations for European grey wolves. Combining our data with data from published studies, we analysed phylogenetic relationships and geographic distribution of mitochondrial DNA haplotypes for 947 contemporary European wolves. We also compared the contemporary wolf sequences with published sequences of 24 ancient European wolves.

Results

We found that haplotypes representing two haplogroups, 1 and 2, overlap geographically, but substantially differ in frequency between populations from south-western and eastern Europe. A comparison between haplotypes from Europe and other continents showed that both haplogroups are spread throughout Eurasia, while only haplogroup 1 occurs in contemporary North American wolves. All ancient wolf samples from western Europe that dated from between 44,000 and 1,200 years B.P. belonged to haplogroup 2, suggesting the long-term predominance of this haplogroup in this region. Moreover, a comparison of current and past frequencies and distributions of the two haplogroups in Europe suggested that haplogroup 2 became outnumbered by haplogroup 1 during the last several thousand years.

Conclusions

Parallel haplogroup replacement, with haplogroup 2 being totally replaced by haplogroup 1, has been reported for North American grey wolves. Taking into account the similarity of diets reported for the late Pleistocene wolves from Europe and North America, the correspondence between these haplogroup frequency changes may suggest that they were associated with ecological changes occurring after the Last Glacial Maximum.