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Use of erroneous wolf generation time in assessments of domestic dog and human evolution

May 12, 2017

Scientific interest in dog domestication and parallel evolution of dogs and humans (Wang et al. 2013) has increased recently (Freedman et al. 2014, Larson and Bradley 2014, Franz et al. 2016,), and various important conclusions have been drawn based on how long ago the calculations show dogs were domesticated from ancestral wolves (Canis lupus). Calculation of this duration is based on “the most commonly assumed mutation rate of 1 x 10-8 per generation and a 3-year gray wolf generation time . . .” (Skoglund et al. 2015:3). It is unclear on what information the assumed generation time is based, but Ersmark et al. (2016) seemed to have based their assumption on a single wolf (Mech and Seal 1987). The importance of assuring that such assumptions are valid is obvious. Recently, two independent studies employing three large data sets and three methods from two widely separated areas have found that wolf generation time is 4.2-4.7 years. The first study, based on 200 wolves in Yellowstone National Park used age-specific birth and death rates to calculate a generation time of 4.16 years (vonHoldt et al. 2008). The second, using estimated first-breeding times of 86 female wolves in northeastern Minnesota found a generation time of 4.3 years and using uterine examination of 159 female wolves from throughout Minnesota yielded a generation time of 4.7 years (Mech et al. 2016). We suggest that previous studies using a 3-year generation time recalculate their figures and adjust their conclusions based on these generation times and publish revised results.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title Use of erroneous wolf generation time in assessments of domestic dog and human evolution
Authors L. David Mech, Shannon Barber-Meyer
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science
Index ID 70187564
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center