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From Wolf to My Moose: Evolution of Man’s Best Friend


We have all seen videos from national geographic of a ravenous wolf ripping open the throat of a cute and terribly unlucky animal. So how have dogs evolved from these vicious beasts into my sweet dog, Moose?

Here’s a picture of my lazy dog, Moose.

As it turns out, going from a wild wolf to my dog Moose was a pretty complicated process and has sparked a lot of debate among scientist. Among the items up for debate are when and where dogs diverged from wolves and if dogs evolved from multiple different sources or just one.

Even the great father of evolution, Charles Darwin, has had things to say on the subject of canine evolution. He used the great variation among dogs as support for evolution in his book “On the Origin of Species.”

He speculated that due to the incredible diversity of dogs they must have been domesticated from more than one canine source, such as the wolf and jackal, and interbreed. This conjecture was later shown to be false; it has been shown that all dogs evolved from one common source.

So anything from yappy Yorkies to great, drooling St. Bernards came from a single point of origin! You may think that due to the vast diversity of dogs that different breeds would be different species but as it turns out, dogs and wolves aren’t even different species! They are both taxonomically categorized as Canis lupus. Dogs are in the subspecies familiaris and gray wolves are in subspecies lupus.

Gray wolf

Gray wolves are most commonly thought to be the point of origin. However, It has been shown that dogs may not have evolved from the gray wolf that we know today, but that they may share a common ancestor with the wolf. Freedman et al. generated and analyzed high quality genome-sequences of three different lines of gray wolves (one from each of the three putative centers of dog domestication) two different potential basal lineages of dogs, and a jackal as an outgroup.

In support of the single origin hypothesis, the authors found that none of the dog lines are more related to any of the wolf lines. They also present evidence supporting that dogs diverged from wolves between approximately 11,000 and 16,000 years ago. The time frame of when dogs diverged from wolves is still under hot debate with estimates from 11,000 to 100,000 years ago.

Evolutionary tree of dog divergence. This show the bottlenecks that came from the ancestral gray wolf that happened in wolves and dogs. Jackals are shown as a control.

So if dogs came from a single point of origin how did they become so diverse in appearance, size, and demeanor? Well, that is probably due to their close relations with us humans. Both natural selection and selective breeding has lead to dogs that are friendlier than their ferocious wolf counterparts and quite different aesthetically. Humans have breed dogs for many reasons such as to herd cattle, to retrieve fallen ducks, or even to fit into purses. Doing so has created extreme diversity among our furry friends that isn’t seen in other species. This diversity among dogs has made it so dog-lovers can choose from a wide range of sizes, personalities, and traits (such as hypoallergenicity) when picking up a pooch from the pound.

Dogs are an incredible example of “modern day” evolution. Over a couple thousand years (give or take), dogs went from savage blood-thirsty predators to man’s best friend or my dog Moose!

About the Author:

kruckow Katherine Kruckow is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology. She is looking for a PhD program to further her passion of studying microbes. When not in the lab she loves hiking, cooking, going to all the concerts she can afford, and reading a good book in her hammock. She also plans on visiting every national park at some point in time during her life. Contact her at kkruckow@uga.edu.More from Katherine Kruckow.

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