Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité. Mais tu ne dois pas l'oublier, dit le renard. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.
Le Petit Prince, chap. 21

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Trophic overlap between wolves and free-ranging wolf× dog hybrids

Bassi, E., Canu, A., Firmo, I., Mattioli, L., Scandura, M., & Apollonio, M. (2017). Trophic overlap between wolves and free-ranging wolf× dog hybrids in the Apennine Mountains, Italy. Global Ecology and Conservation, 9, 39-49.

Hybridization between wolves (Canis lupus) and domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) can represent a threat to wild populations via genetic introgression and ecological competition. Therefore understanding the ecological role of hybrids may be crucial for developing appropriate conservation strategies.

The Italian wolf population has a peculiar genetic composition due to a long-lasting geographic isolation. Nowadays, however, its genetic integrity is threatened by the spread of canine genes as a result of the hybridization with stray dogs in the wild.

The aim of the present study was to gain insights into the ecological role of free-ranging wolf–dog hybrids by investigating their winter food habits in comparison with wolves in a mountain area of Central Italy. Levels of genetic introgression from the dogs were assessed in two adjacent areas occupied by up to five different packs by analyzing non-invasive samples and carcasses collected therein with a set of uniparental and bi-parental molecular markers.

The obtained results enabled us to classify the two areas as ‘hybrid’ and ‘wolf’ areas based on their level of genetic introgression.

Trophic niche and similarity/dissimilarity analyses did not detect significant difference in the diet between the two areas: in both of them, wild boar was the main prey, followed by roe deer. Furthermore, the same age/body mass classes of the two ungulates were selected by wolves and hybrids. Our findings confirmed wolf–dog hybrids as potential competitors for wolves. Further studies on other aspects of their biology and ecology are recommended in order to better estimate the impact of hybridization on natural wolf populations.

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