North-South differentiation and a region of high diversity in European wolves (Canis lupus)

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 11;8(10):e76454. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076454. eCollection 2013.


European wolves (Canis lupus) show population genetic structure in the absence of geographic barriers, and across relatively short distances for this highly mobile species. Additional information on the location of and divergence between population clusters is required, particularly because wolves are currently recolonizing parts of Europe. We evaluated genetic structure in 177 wolves from 11 countries using over 67K single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) loci. The results supported previous findings of an isolated Italian population with lower genetic diversity than that observed across other areas of Europe. Wolves from the remaining countries were primarily structured in a north-south axis, with Croatia, Bulgaria, and Greece (Dinaric-Balkan) differentiated from northcentral wolves that included individuals from Finland, Latvia, Belarus, Poland and Russia. Carpathian Mountain wolves in central Europe had genotypes intermediate between those identified in northcentral Europe and the Dinaric-Balkan cluster. Overall, individual genotypes from northcentral Europe suggested high levels of admixture. We observed high diversity within Belarus, with wolves from western and northern Belarus representing the two most differentiated groups within northcentral Europe. Our results support the presence of at least three major clusters (Italy, Carpathians, Dinaric-Balkan) in southern and central Europe. Individuals from Croatia also appeared differentiated from wolves in Greece and Bulgaria. Expansion from glacial refugia, adaptation to local environments, and human-related factors such as landscape fragmentation and frequent killing of wolves in some areas may have contributed to the observed patterns. Our findings can help inform conservation management of these apex predators and the ecosystems of which they are part.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Europe
  • Genetic Markers
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Wolves / genetics*


  • Genetic Markers

Grants and funding

This study was funded by BIOCONSUS (Research Potential in Conservation and Sustainable Management of Biodiversity, 7th Framework Programme contract no. 245737), BIOGEAST (Biodiversity of East-European and Siberian large mammals on the level of genetic variation of populations, 7th Framework Programme contract no. 247652), The Mammal Research Institute at the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education (grants no. 6P04F 09421 and NN 303 418437), EURONATUR (Germany), Marie Curie Transfer of Knowledge Fellowships to CP and JK (project BIORESC in the 6th Framework Programme, contract no. MTKD-CT-2005-029957), grants to CP from the Danish Natural Science Research Council (grant number: #11-103926, #09-065999 and 95095995) and the Carlsberg Foundation (grant number 2011-01-0059), ISPRA (Instituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale) and the Italian Ministry of Environment. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.