WEI Scientist to Collect Siberian Wolf DNA in Yakutsk

Kaj Granlund, Finnish scientist, author, and  member of Wolf Education International (WEI), has organized a trip to Yakutsk, Sakha Republic to collect samples of DNA of Siberian wolves.  He and two others will be conducting research in Yakutsk from 14 – 19 March.  Below is a copy of their Action Plan, and we have permission to distribute this plan to interested people and organizations.

ACTION PLAN YAKUTSK 27.1.2016

Schedule

Departure March 13. at 12.25 from Helsinki to Moscow.

March 14. at 07:50 from Moscow to Yakutsk.

Return March 19. at 09:10 from Yakutsk via Moscow to Helsinki.

Hotel reservation in Yakutsk, March 14. To March 19.

Facilities

Suitable facilities are made available for the NMBU (Norwegian University of Life Sciences Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Biosciences Department of Food Safety and Infection Biology) research team at YSAA (Yakut State Academy of Agriculture).

Research plan

Background

Hybridization between wolves and dogs can represent a major threat to the wild wolf populations. However, high genetic similarity between wolves and dogs makes the detection of hybrids difficult and may prevent attempts to assess the impact of hybridization.

There are evidence indicating that European wolf population suffers from large scale hybridization caused by dogs, being interbred with wolves, during the introduction of wolves in the 1970’s. Possible evidence of intentional hybridization is found all over Central Europe, Scandinavia and Finland.

The existing reference data used in genetic analysis is undocumented and has not been verified as having its origin in pure wolves. Thus most of the European wolf research is based upon the assumption, that the genetic reference is valid, though the initial research done to collect tissue samples does not satisfy the essential requirements of reliable science.

Aims

We work on the assumption that the morphological traits documented in the past are valid and can be applied to identify early incidents of hybridization in the current Central European, Scandinavian and Finnish wolf populations. In this study we focus on hybridization over a period of 30 – 50 years back in time rather than sporadic hybridization having taken place within the 21 century.

We assume that reintroduction of the wolf in Europe was boosted by private and government controlled wolfdog breeders releasing hybrids into the nature. The scarce population of pure wolves may have resulted in large scale crossbreeding between these hybrids and wolves. Observations have been reported of wolf populations expressing traits typical to dogs although these possible hybrids still maintain their genetic differentiation from dogs.

The objective with our study is to

i. Establish a genetic reference database of wolf samples from different locations in Russia and attach a complete morphological study to each sample in the database. This enables later studies of genetic to phenotypic relationship.

ii. Provide the scientific society with information about how to evaluate morphological traits.

iii. To verify the phenotypic descriptions (expressed traits and behaviour) documented by wolf researchers prior to the use of genetic methods.

Our research hypothesis is that wolves in areas where the wolf population not has been extinguished, still retains the morphological traits described in science from the 19.th and the 20.th century. We also assume that the expressed morphological traits for these populations vary less than the corresponding traits of the current Central and North European wolf populations.

Materials and methods

The main objective is to document a set of 20 randomly collected wolf carcasses in Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic in Russia. The study of these carcasses is divided into four different sections.

i. Evaluation of the physical traits as compared to wolf descriptions from early Russian science. The expressed traits are documented as described in Appendix A. Conformance and disparities are evaluated based upon the observations.

ii. If possible, the skulls will be prepared and measured using the craniometric evaluation protocol described in Appendix B.

iii. Tissue samples for later genetic evaluation are collected from each of the 20 carcasses.

iv. The carcasses are photographed using the methods described in Appendix C.

v. Variation of pelt colour is evaluated using Adobe RAW format photos analysed by computer programs written for this purpose. Photos are taken according to the colour specification in Appendix C.

A less comprehensive study is made by studying available wolf pelts in order to support the results from i and v.

Reports

A detailed report of the observed results is presented to the scientific society later this year.

Further research

In order to validate the observed results further studies will be carried out in other parts of Russia.

Appendix A Morphology.pdf

Appendix B Craniometric.pdf

Appendix C Coloursetting.pdf