Researchers from the University of Exeter have warned that European wolf populations are at risk of being wiped out by a surge of wolf-dog hybrids.
By, 28 May 2019
Lead author Valerio Donfrancesco from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter warns that wild populations of wolves will soon give way to wolf-dogs if nothing is done to manage the interactions of the two species.
Wolf-dogs are a hybrid species that results from the mating of wolf and dog. The study states that wolf-dog offspring are most commonly found in areas where human territory borders wolf territory and where domestic dogs are allowed to roam free.
Habitat destruction is also cited as a cause of wolves edging ever closer to urban areas.
The interbreeding ‘threatens the genetic identity’ of wolves, writes Harry Cockburn for the Independent.
Study reveals disagreements between scientists
In the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution Donfrancesco writes: ‘We need to address this issue before wolf-dog hybrids backcross with wolves to the extent that wolf populations will be lost to hybrid swarms, and the conservation of wild populations will become unfeasible.’
The study scrutinised the approach of numerous scientists and concluded that disparate opinions endangered any forthright restorative action. The lack of agreement among those 'best placed to tackle the problem' was cited as a hindrance to proper manangement of the growing numbers of wolf-dogs.
A rescue bid is also hampered by a lack of research of wolf-dog hybrids. 'The fact that we know so little about the ecology, behaviour and social acceptance of the wolf-dog hybrids adds a layer of concern to the issue,' Mr Donfrancesco told the Independent.
Should the number of wolf-dog hybrids continue to rise, the long-term survival and evolution of the lupine species are threatened.
Despite the research it seems inevitable that in some parts of northern Europe wolf populations will cease to be, due to the steady encroachment of humans into wilderness and the vast numbers of domestic dogs that accompany human habitations.
Co-author Dr Nibedita Mukherjee, from the University of Exeter, said: ‘We hope that by highlighting areas of disagreement and why they occur, we will be able to build a more unified scientific opinion, and aid an effective management of this urgent issue.’