Study: 'Golden Wolf' Has Been Hiding in Plain Sight

We just thought it was the African golden jackal
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 31, 2015 12:10 AM CDT
Study: 'Golden Wolf' Has Been Hiding in Plain Sight
It appears that Africa's golden jackal isn't a jackal at all, but rather a newly-discovered species of wolf.   (D. Gordon E. Robertson)

Africa, home to the Ethiopian wolf and the gray wolf, can now lay claim to the African golden wolf—the first new species of canid (which also encompasses jackals, foxes, and coyotes) to be discovered in 150 years, reports National Geographic. The new species has long been misunderstood to be a golden jackal, which lives in both Eurasia and East Africa. But a new DNA analysis reveals that in spite of their convincingly similar appearances, they've evolved over millennia into two distinct species, and that the East African jackal is actually a new type of wolf. "I was very surprised," study leader Klaus-Peter Koepfli says. The finding, however, isn't entirely without precedent.

In 2012, a French biologist reported in PLoS ONE that an analysis of mitochondrial (as opposed to nuclear) DNA suggested the African golden jackal may actually be a subspecies of gray wolf separate from its Eurasian doppelganger. But rather than arrive at the same conclusion per his expectations, Koepfli discovered that Africa's golden jackal is a new wolf species altogether, the so-called golden wolf. It appears to have parted genetic ways from the Eurasian jackal about a million years ago, he reports this week in the journal Current Biology, even though the two look so remarkably similar. That shared form was perhaps facilitated by "intense competition from a uniquely diverse carnivoran community including species larger and smaller than jackals, thus inhibiting size divergence." While his findings need to be confirmed, some call it an "airtight" case, and thus the number of living Canidae species could go from 35 to 36, reports PhysOrg. (Another species is down to its final four members.)

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