A new mitochondrial haplotype confirms the distinctiveness of the Italian wolf ( Canis lupus ) population

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Mammalian Biology, ISSN: 1616-5047, Vol: 84, Page: 30-34

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Luca Montana; Romolo Caniglia; Marco Galaverni; Elena Fabbri; Ettore Randi
Elsevier BV
Agricultural and Biological Sciences
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In the past century the Italian wolf has been repeatedly indicated as a distinct subspecies, Canis lupus italicus, due to its unique morphology and its distinctive mtDNA control region (CR) monomorphism. However, recent studies on wolf x dog hybridization in Italy documented the presence of a second mtDNA CR haplotype (W16), previously found only in wolves from Eastern Europe, casting doubts on the genetic uniqueness of the Italian wolves. To test whether this second haplotype belongs to the Italian wolf population, we genotyped 92 wolf DNA samples from Italy, Slovenia, Greece and Bulgaria at four mtDNA regions (control-region, ATP6, COIII and ND4 genes) and at 39 autosomal microsatellites. Results confirm the presence of two mtDNA multi-fragment haplotypes (WH14 and WH19) in the Italian wolves, distinct from all the other European wolves. Network analyses of the multi-fragment mtDNA haplotypes identified two strongly differentiated clades, with the Italian wolf WH14 and WH19 multi-fragment haplotypes rooted together. Finally, Bayesian clustering clearly assigned all the wolves sampled in Italy to the Italian population, regardless of the two different multi-fragment haplotypes. These results demonstrate that the W16 CR haplotype is part of the genetic pool of the Italian wolf population, reconfirming its distinctiveness from other European wolves. Overall, considering the presence of unique mtDNA and Y-linked haplotypes, the sharply different frequencies of genome-wide autosomal alleles and the distinct morphological features of Italian wolves, we believe that this population should be considered a distinct subspecies.