The long genetic isolation is significant in another way.
Larisa DeSantis, a paleontologist at Vanderbilt University, who was not involved in the research, said this “is consistent with the idea of a North American origin of terrible wolves.”
They were here at least 250,000 years ago, and they were still here, albeit near the end of their existence, when humans first arrived in the Americas, perhaps 15,000 years ago.
“They weren’t this gigantic mythical creature, but an animal that likely interacted with humans,” Dr. Perri said.
In the search for fossils that could provide terrible ancient wolf DNA, Dr Perri has teamed up with a number of other researchers around the world, including Kieren Mitchell, evolutionary biologist at the University of Adelaide; Alice Mouton, geneticist at the University of Los Angeles; and Sandra Álvarez-Carretero, doctoral student in genomics at Queen Mary University in London.
They combed museums to find 46 bone samples that might have usable DNA. Five did. “We were really lucky,” said Dr Perri. “And we found a lot of things that we weren’t really expecting.
The results were surprising because terrible wolf skeletons are similar to gray wolf skeletons and because DNA was not available. Xiaoming Wang, a paleontologist at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, who published a review of fossil evidence in 2009 who placed the terrible wolf squarely in the genus Canis, called the new paper a “milestone”, adding that “the morphology is not infallible”.
As to why the terrible wolf went extinct and the wolves survived, the authors speculated that its long genetic isolation and lack of crossbreeding with other species may have made it less able to adapt. the disappearance of its main prey. Lighter species like gray wolves and coyotes acquired potentially useful genes from other species.