Citizen science facilitates first ever genetic detection of wolf-dog hybridization in Indian savannahs

Ecol Evol. 2023 May 17;13(5):e10100. doi: 10.1002/ece3.10100. eCollection 2023 May.


Human demographic expansion has confined wildlife to fragmented habitats, often in proximity to human-modified landscapes. Such interfaces facilitate increased interactions between feral or domesticated animals and wildlife, posing a high risk to wild species. This is especially relevant for free-ranging dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) and wild canids like gray wolves (Canis lupus) and golden jackals (Canis aureus). Wolf-dog hybridization may lead to a significant reduction of specific adaptations in wolves that could result in the decline of wolf populations. Detection and genetic discrimination of hybrids between dogs and wolves are challenging because of their complex demographic history and close ancestry. Citizen scientists identified two phenotypically different-looking individuals and subsequently collected non-invasive samples that were used by geneticists to test wolf-dog hybridization. Genomic data from shed hair samples of suspected hybrid individuals using double-digest restriction-site-associated DNA (ddRAD) sequencing resulted in 698 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers. We investigated the genetic origin of these two individuals analyzed with genetically known dogs, wolves, and other canid species including jackals and dholes (Cuon alpinus). Our results provide the first genetic evidence of one F2 hybrid and the other individual could be a complex hybrid between dogs and wolves. Our results re-iterate the power of next-generation sequencing (NGS) for non-invasive samples as an efficient tool for detecting hybrids. Our results suggest the need for more robust monitoring of wolf populations and highlight the tremendous potential for collaborative approaches between citizens and conservation scientists to detect and monitor threats to biodiversity.

Keywords: Canis lupus; SNPs; conservation genomics; ddRAD; hybridization; non‐invasive samples.