The Himalayan wolf forms a distinct lineage from the contemporary grey wolf and has unique genetic markers that allow it to thrive in altitudes higher than 4,000 meters, according a study published on February 19 in the Journal of Biogeography.
Researchers analyzed 280 wolf scat samples in order to learn more about the animals’ evolutionary history and diet, and concluded that the genetic and ecological differences in Himalayan wolves may be due to “the evolutionary fitness challenge posed by the low oxygen levels in the extreme high altitudes,” says coauthor Geraldine Werhahn of Oxford University in a press release. “When we started this research we thought this wolf is found only in the Himalayas, but now we know that they are found in the entire high altitude regions of Asia comprising the habitats of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. Much still remains to be revealed about their ecology, behaviour and population size. But the time to protect them is now!”
G. Werhahn et al., “Himalayan wolf distribution and admixture based on multiple genetic markers,” J Biogeogr, doi:10.1111/jbi.13824, 2020.
Amy Schleunes is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.