I’ll have some science with that, please

A December 28, 2017 Albuquerque Journal editorial about the new Mexican wolf plan states “The state commission last week also approved Fish and Wildlife permits to allow the cross-fostering of up to 12 pups in New Mexico in 2018 and for some pups to be moved into captivity in New Mexico from Arizona to promote genetic diversity of the wolf.”

Um.  I don’t think that’s going to work, buttercup.  You can’t create something from nothing.  It would be like saying you were going to segregate all the red and white molecules from a bucket of pink paint so now you have more colors, and then expect you can paint your wall blue with what you’ve created.  Not gonna happen.

Image illustrating how breeding two horses together won't end up with a unicorn

Breeds ≠ species genetic diversity

Mexican wolves in the US have all been bred from just a few ancestors, all captured in Mexico in the 1970s.  There are now many hundreds of Mexican wolves in the wild and in captive facilities in the US, and they all are descendants of those few ancestors.  So what I want to see is some science that explains how there could be genetic diversity created from that limited gene pool.  Where, exactly, are the new, diverse genes supposed to come from when all Mexican wolves in the US are descended from only a couple handfuls of ancestors?

12,000 years is a blink of the evolutionary eye

Cheetahs were nearly wiped out in the recent past, evolution-wise (about 12,000 years ago). All of today’s cheetahs are descended from probably more ancestors than the  captured US Mexican wolf population’s are, and yet today there is no more genetic diversity in the cheetah gene pool than there was 11,999 years ago — even though cheetahs have bred freely for all that time. So if over a span of 12,000 years diversity has not miraculously developed in one species, how could diversity develop in another over just a few decades’ time, even with human oversight?

Breeds ≠ species genetic diversity

All the Mexican wolf program is doing is inbreeding — mixing and matching the same genes to create  artificial diversity,  akin to breeds in domestic animals. The artificial diversity of inbreeding, of course, simply disappears as soon as animals cross-breed.  Breed two purebred dogs together, for example, and you can be pretty sure the offspring will be like the sire and dam.  But throw a bunch of different breed dogs together and let them have at, and after a while all the pups will be… mutts.

Thus all the human-bred genetic “diversity” of wolves released into the wild will simply breed out because the resulting offspring will have the same genetics as the original wolves they came from back in the beginning of the Mexican wolf program.  When all the Mexican wolves in the US are related, what one is vulnerable to all of them are vulnerable to.  That’s what a limited gene pool gets you.

It might be a noble thing that Americans are doing, trying to “save” the Mexican wolf.  Unfortunately, real science indicates that all that we’re doing is creating a sort of outdoor zoo for a subspecies that may never be genetically viable enough to thrive on their own.



About Lif Strand

I write, therefore I am. Unless I'm taking photos. Or sewing. Or not.
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2 Responses to I’ll have some science with that, please

  1. Mary Katherine Ray says:

    The problem is that the wild population is even MORE inbred than the captive one. This happened over time because of the nature of wild wolves pairing with mates of their own choosing and the failure to place genetically valuable wolves into the wild population so their genes could become part of the wild population genome. This is the reason for the need to release more wolves from captivity and soon while the population is still relatively small so that the genes that are missing can spread. We’re not getting any new wolf genes overall- but we can get sorely needed new wolf genes into the wild population.

    • Lif Strand says:

      My point was that there are no new wolf genes to get into the population. Unless somebody goes down into Mexico and traps wolves there, where are these new genes supposed to come from? Certainly not from zoos and breeding facilities that have the same genes to work with as what is in the wild population.