Fewer than 500 of the world’s rarest dogs-the Ethiopian wolf-are genetically coming apart, scientist have said.
The world’s rarest dog is Africa’s only species of wolf and a 12-year study suggests that only a small amount of gene flow exists in the small populations. This means the wolves are at a greater risk of extinction from habitat degradation or disease, BBCreports.
The study of the world’s rarest dog was published in the Animal Conservation journal. Heading up the research, Dada Gottelli of London’s Zoological Society and colleagues in Oxford, UK and Berlin, Germany, studied the gene flow among 72 of the Ethiopian wolves living in the wild.
Wolves living in six of the seven remaining populations were studied, as well as the Mount Choke population which has since become extinct.
Genetic diversity remained high for the world’s rarest dog, which population has declined to less than 500.
About 18,000 years ago, small populations of wolves survived after the glaciation period, meaning the number of rare genes became fixed and were maintained in isolated groups.
Now, the isolation is working against the fitness of the world’s rarest dog.
Gene types were studied by researchers at 14 different locations on the wolf genome. The gene flow has been found to be weak between the groups of Ethiopian wolves.
The wolves prefer particularly specific habitats and usually will not travel long distances, meaning it is unlikely that the wolves will join different groups, which would encourage the mixture of genes.
About 100,000 years ago, the Ethiopian wolf broke away from it’s wolf ancestor when it settled in the Ethiopian highlands. Now it lives almost exclusively at altitudes above 3,000 meters.
According to scientists, efforts to reconnect isolated populations must be made, which would create habitat corridors.
Other studies have indicated that a method like reconnecting the population could enable genetic diversity to dramatically increase and possibly safe the species.