Sunday, June 24, 2007

Did lack of food kill Alaskan wolves?

An article in ScienceDaily caught my eye.

Ice Age Extinction Claimed Highly Carnivorous Alaskan Wolves

The extinction of many large mammals at the end of the Ice Age may have packed an even bigger punch than scientists have realized. To the list of victims such as woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats, a Smithsonian-led team of scientists has added one more: a highly carnivorous form of wolf that lived in Alaska, north of the ice sheets.

It was thought that these wolves were related to modern (Asian) wolves, but recent studies show that this isn't the case.

The researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA from the fossil wolf bones preserved in permafrost and compared the sequences, called haplotypes, with those of modern-day wolves in Alaska and throughout the world. The fossils showed a wide range of haplotypes--greater in fact than their modern counterpart--but there was no overlap with modern wolves. This was unexpected.

"We thought possibly they would be related to Asian wolves instead of American wolves because North America and Asia were connected during that time period. That they were completely unrelated to anything living was quite a surprise," Leonard said.

The result implies that the Alaskan wolves died out completely, leaving no modern descendents. After the extinction, the Alaskan habitat was probably recolonized by wolves that survived south of the ice sheet in the continental United States, Leonard said.

As the ScienceDaily article makes clear, it's pretty plausible that these highly carnivorous wolves died out because of the lack of prey. This show how the extinction of some species can lead to the extinction of other species.

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