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A genetic discovery in the Himalayas

14/06/2017 in Conservation

Himalayan Wolves project update

This week, the Royal Society Open Science is publishing the results from the first phase of the Himalayan Wolves Project. Led by Geraldine Werhahn (Himalayan Wolves Project founder and DPhil student at The University of Oxford’s WildCru), this project aims to gather scientific evidence to support the conservation of the wolves, and their prey, in the high altitude habitats across the Himalayas.

Himalayan Wolf Project -Geraldine

Above: Geraldine Werhahn sampling wolf fecal samples.

Over the last two years, the team here at RZSS WildGenes laboratory have been collaborating closely with our partners at the Centre for Molecular Dynamics in Nepal. Using samples collected from the field , genetic data has been generated that will allow us to better understand the wolf population in Nepal, about which very little was previously known.

 Centre for Molecular Dynamics Nepal

Above: Lab work at the Centre for Molecular Dynamics Nepal

Previous studies of wolves in the Himalayan regions indicated that there might be some considerable genetic divergence from the Holarctic grey wolf which is found across Eurasia and America. Using a variety of genes, Geraldine’s study has confirmed this difference in a survey of Humla in Western Nepal. Interestingly it has also discovered an evolutionary link with the newly proposed species of canid: formally the (African) Golden Jackal now possibly the “African Wolf” (Koepfli et al 2015), hinting at a deeper, and more complex, evolutionary history within canids. Work is now underway analysing data from additional sites across the Himalayas to investigate this unusual genetic divergence further and describe the extent of their range.

Humla – wolf country

Above: Humla – wolf country (Photo by Geraldine Werhahn)

Only by understanding these wolves fully can we make effective conservation decisions about how to protect them.

Watch this space for more news soon!

 

Dr Helen Senn

RZSS WildGenes Programme Manager

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