Evolution in Action: Greater than the sum of its parts

20151031_STP001_0The Economist has a fascinating little article all about the emergence of a new species in North America, and what is good about it is that it not only lays out the facts quite well, but also gives you a good feel for the ongoing discussion about it all.

What is this new species?

As pictured above we have the emergence of the Coywolf, a combination of wolf, coyote and dog.

How did this come about?

…dwindling wolf populations in southern Ontario to begin, a century or two ago, breeding widely with dogs and coyotes. The clearance of forests for farming, together with the deliberate persecution which wolves often suffer at the hand of man, had made life tough for the species. That same forest clearance, though, both permitted coyotes to spread from their prairie homeland into areas hitherto exclusively lupine, and brought the dogs that accompanied the farmers into the mix.

… The consequence has been booming numbers of an extraordinarily fit new animal 

Is this really a blending of dog, wolf and coyote?

Basically yes, and that is not speculation, it is an established fact …

Javier Monzón, who worked until recently at Stony Brook University in New York state (he is now at Pepperdine University, in California) studied the genetic make-up of 437 of the animals, in ten north-eastern states plus Ontario. He worked out that, though coyote DNA dominates, a tenth of the average coywolf’s genetic material is dog and a quarter is wolf.

There is some debate here …

Whether the coywolf actually has evolved into a distinct species is debated. Jonathan Way, who works in Massachusetts for the National Park Service, claims in a forthcoming paper that it has. He thinks its morphological and genetic divergence from its ancestors is sufficient to qualify. But many disagree. One common definition of a species is a population that will not interbreed with outsiders. Since coywolves continue to mate with dogs and wolves, the argument goes, they are therefore not a species. But, given the way coywolves came into existence, that definition would mean wolves and coyotes should not be considered different species either—and that does not even begin to address whether domestic dogs are a species, or just an aberrant form of wolf.

All in all, a really nice article that quite effectively communicates both what has been observed and also the associated debate, without burying you in too much detail, nor dabbling with fictitious sensationalism.

Evolution is a myth

It is perhaps more than a tad ironic to find that many of those who reject the very concept of evolution and demand an actual example of evolution happening before their very eyes, need look no further than their own back yards.

Meet the Coywolf

Here is a 2014 documentary on the CoyWolf that you might like.

Meet The Coywolf (Documentary 2014)

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