Background: Many coastal species occupying the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest in North America comprise endemic populations genetically and ecologically distinct from interior continental conspecifics. Morphological variation previously identified among wolf populations resulted in recognition of multiple subspecies of wolves in the Pacific Northwest. Recently, separate genetic studies have identified diverged populations of wolves in coastal British Columbia and coastal Southeast Alaska, providing support for hypotheses of distinct coastal subspecies. These two regions are geographically and ecologically contiguous, however, there is no comprehensive analysis across all wolf populations in this coastal rainforest.
Methodology/principal findings: By combining mitochondrial DNA datasets from throughout the Pacific Northwest, we examined the genetic relationship between coastal British Columbia and Southeast Alaska wolf populations and compared them with adjacent continental populations. Phylogenetic analysis indicates complete overlap in the genetic diversity of coastal British Columbia and Southeast Alaska wolves, but these populations are distinct from interior continental wolves. Analyses of molecular variation support the separation of all coastal wolves in a group divergent from continental populations, as predicted based on hypothesized subspecies designations. Two novel haplotypes also were uncovered in a newly assayed continental population of interior Alaska wolves.
Conclusions/significance: We found evidence that coastal wolves endemic to these temperate rainforests are diverged from neighbouring, interior continental wolves; a finding that necessitates new international strategies associated with the management of this species.