Extinct Beringian wolf morphotype found in the continental U.S. has implications for wolf migration and evolution.Ecol Evol 2016; 6(10):3430-8EE
Pleistocene diversity was much higher than today, for example there were three distinct wolf morphotypes (dire, gray, Beringian) in North America versus one today (gray). Previous fossil evidence suggested that these three groups overlapped ecologically, but split the landscape geographically. The Natural Trap Cave (NTC) fossil site in Wyoming, USA is an ideally placed late Pleistocene site to study the geographical movement of species from northern to middle North America before, during, and after the last glacial maximum. Until now, it has been unclear what type of wolf was present at NTC. We analyzed morphometrics of three wolf groups (dire, extant North American gray, Alaskan Beringian) to determine which wolves were present at NTC and what this indicates about wolf diversity and migration in Pleistocene North America. Results show NTC wolves group with Alaskan Beringian wolves. This provides the first morphological evidence for Beringian wolves in mid-continental North America. Their location at NTC and their radiocarbon ages suggest that they followed a temporary channel through the glaciers. Results suggest high levels of competition and diversity in Pleistocene North American wolves. The presence of mid-continental Beringian morphotypes adds important data for untangling the history of immigration and evolution of Canis in North America.