Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

DNA Confirms Oregon Wolf Packs Are Interbreeding

Ecotrope | Nov. 21, 2012 1:56 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:28 p.m.

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DNA testing shows an Imnaha wolf has successfully bred with the Wenaha pack. This picture shows pups from the Wenaha pack.

DNA testing shows an Imnaha wolf has successfully bred with the Wenaha pack. This picture shows pups from the Wenaha pack.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports new information about two wolves: Newly collared OR-16 and OR-12, an Imnaha pack wolf that was suspected of breeding with a wolf from the Wenaha pack.

OR-16 is a new wolf that was radio-collared earlier this month. Officials now believe he is from the Walla Walla pack after satellite downloads from its radio collar show the wolf has been traveling with OR-10, also from the Walla Walla pack.

The state also reports today that the results of DNA tests of scat in the Wenaha wolf pack territory show OR-12 was born into the Imnaha pack and bred with a Wenaha pack wolf.

It’s the first confirmed case of interbreeding among Oregon wolves, according to ODFW.

ODFW’s wolf coordinator Russ Morgan said it’s common for wolves to disperse from one pack and breed with another, but this is the first time the state has been able to document it happening in Oregon.

“Our ability to observe it is new,” he said. “Realistically, these packs are continually changing just like any other wildlife. But now we have the genetic ability to see that unfold and understand the relationships.”

The state has taken genetic samples from blood and tissue of all the wolves it has captured so far, Morgan said. Now it has DNA from 16 different wolves and can use that data to compare the genetics of known wolves and wolf packs.

“It’s phenomenal,” Morgan said. “Just six or seven years ago it was hard to even identify wolves as being hybrid or domestic wolves. But because DNA databases have gained in size, we can determine things like whether a wolf is male or female, whether it came from an Idaho introduced species or another source, and the relationships with other known sampled wolves.”

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