Saturday, 9 March 2013

Mystery solved – Where did Falkland Islands wolves come from?


Ancient DNA solves 320-year-old mystery
March 2013. University of Adelaide researchers have found the answer to one of natural history's most intriguing puzzles - the origins of the now extinct Falkland Islands wolf and how it came to be the only land-based mammal on the isolated islands - 460km from the nearest land, Argentina.

Previous theories have suggested the wolf somehow rafted on ice or vegetation, crossed via a now-submerged land bridge or was even semi-domesticated and transported by early South American humans.

Darwin questions
The 320-year-old mystery was first recorded by early British explorers in 1690 and raised again by Charles Darwin following his encounter with the famously tame species on his Beagle voyage in 1834.

New stuffed specimen found in New Zealand
Researchers from the University's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) extracted tiny pieces of tissue from the skull of a specimen collected personally by Darwin. They also used samples from a previously unknown specimen, which was recently re-discovered as a stuffed exhibit in the attic of Otago Museum in New Zealand.

16,000 years ago
The findings concluded that, unlike earlier theories, the Falkland Islands wolf (Dusicyon australis) only became isolated about 16,000 years ago around the peak of the last glacial period.

"Previous studies used ancient DNA from museum specimens to suggest that the Falkland Islands wolf diverged genetically from its closest living relative, the South American maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) around seven million years ago. As a result, they estimated that the wolf colonised the islands about 330,000 years ago by unknown means," says Associate Professor Jeremy Austin, Deputy Director of ACAD and co-lead author with Dr Julien Soubrier.

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