Thursday, July 30, 2015

[Mammalogy • 2015] Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species; Canis anthus & C. aureus, respectively

• African and Eurasian golden jackals are genetically distinct lineages
• Divergence between lineages is concordant across multiple molecular markers
• Morphologic convergence is observed between African and Eurasian golden jackals
• African golden jackals merit recognition as a distinct species

The golden jackal of Africa (Canis aureus) has long been considered a conspecific of jackals distributed throughout Eurasia, with the nearest source populations in the Middle East. However, two recent reports found that mitochondrial haplotypes of some African golden jackals aligned more closely to gray wolves (Canis lupus), which is surprising given the absence of gray wolves in Africa and the phenotypic divergence between the two species. Moreover, these results imply the existence of a previously unrecognized phylogenetically distinct species despite a long history of taxonomic work on African canids. To test the distinct-species hypothesis and understand the evolutionary history that would account for this puzzling result, we analyzed extensive genomic data including mitochondrial genome sequences, sequences from 20 autosomal loci (17 introns and 3 exon segments), microsatellite loci, X- and Y-linked zinc-finger protein gene (ZFX and ZFY) sequences, and whole-genome nuclear sequences in African and Eurasian golden jackals and gray wolves. Our results provide consistent and robust evidence that populations of golden jackals from Africa and Eurasia represent distinct monophyletic lineages separated for more than one million years, sufficient to merit formal recognition as different species: Canis anthus (African golden wolf) and C. aureus (Eurasian golden jackal). Using morphologic data, we demonstrate a striking morphologic similarity between East African and Eurasian golden jackals, suggesting parallelism, which may have misled taxonomists and likely reflects uniquely intense interspecific competition in the East African carnivore guild. Our study shows how ecology can confound taxonomy if interspecific competition constrains size diversification.

A Golden Jackal (Canis anthus) from Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Based on genomic results, the researchers suggest this animal be referred to as the African Golden Wolf, which is distinct from the Eurasian Golden Jackal (Canis aureus).
photo: D. Gordon E. Robertson

Klaus-Peter Koepfli, John Pollinger, Raquel Godinho, Jacqueline Robinson, Amanda Lea, Sarah Hendricks, Rena M. Schweizer, Olaf Thalmann, Pedro Silva, Zhenxin Fan, Andrey A. Yurchenko, Pavel Dobrynin, Alexey Makunin, James A. Cahill, Beth Shapiro, Francisco Álvares, José C. Brito, Eli Geffen, Jennifer A. Leonard, Kristofer M. Helgen, Warren E. Johnson, Stephen J. O’Brien, Blaire Van Valkenburgh and Robert K. Wayne. 2015. Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species. Current Biology, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.060

In Brief: Koepfli et al. assess divergence between golden jackals (Canis aureus) from Africa and Eurasia using data from the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes. They show that African and Eurasian golden jackals are genetically distinct and independent lineages, and that African golden jackals likely represent a separate species.

'Golden jackals' of East Africa are actually 'golden wolves' via @physorg_com

'Golden jackals' of East Africa are actually 'golden wolves' 
Despite their remarkably similar appearance, the 'golden jackals' of East Africa and Eurasia are actually two entirely different species. The discovery, based on DNA evidence, increases the overall biodiversity of the Canidae -- the group including dogs, wolves, foxes, and jackals -- from 35 living species to 36.