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Examples of Evolution: Coywolves
Episode 11523rd November 2021 • My AP Biology Thoughts • Hopewell Valley Student Publications Network
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My AP Biology Thoughts  

Unit 7 Natural Selection 

EPISODE TITLE: The Evolution of Coywolves

Keenan: Welcome to My AP Biology Thoughts podcast, my name is Keenan Wallace and I am your host for this podcast. In episode 115, we will be discussing the topic of Coywolves and how they relate to the AP Biology Curriculum. 

Keenan: For this episode, we’ve brought in Alex Profit and Serena Russel to discuss the evolution of coywolves. So, to start us off: what exactly is a Coywolf?

Alex: Well, ‘Coywolf’ is actually just a nickname for what is known to the scientific community as an eastern coyote. Eastern coyotes are hybrids of coyotes, wolves and dogs, however they are still primarily coyotes and remain as coyotes rather than wolves. 

Keenan: So you say that the Coywolves, or eastern coyotes are a mix of several different species. Do you know the genetic breakdown?

Serena: It’s difficult to say for certain since the coyotes’ genetic makeup varies by region and population, but according to a DNA analysis done by Evolutionary Biologist Javier Monzón, they are 64% coyote, 13% gray wolf, 13% eastern wolf, and 10% dog. 

Keenan: Wow, that’s some genetic diversity. So how do these new hybrids differ from their pure coyote ancestors?

Alex: For one thing, they’re larger. Eastern Coyotes are 35-37% larger than their western counterparts. They also have larger and more powerful heads, their ears are more rounded like a wolf’s and they have wolf-like fur markings. There’s lots of variation within and between populations, but coywolves' features tend to match the midpoint between coyotes and wolves. 

Keenan: Fascinating! So from what I understand, this interbreeding is a fairly recent development. What led to it?

Serena: This story started several hundred years ago with the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. When Europeans colonized the East Coast of America they started cutting down forests and hunting large prey in the region, which threatened the habitat and food source of local grey wolves. At the same time, western coyotes, which are adapted to more open terrain, were drawn east by the expansion of their preferred habitat via deforestation. With shrinking numbers of grey wolves and a new thriving population of coyotes in the region, it makes sense that the wolves soon turned to coyotes as mating partners. 

Serena: From there, natural selection took over. With the right mix of coyote and wolf DNA, a new species was created that was the best of both worlds. These “coywolves,” as they are called, are larger than coyotes, but inherited the social nature of wolves, meaning they form packs to hunt, which allows them to hunt large animals like deer in addition to the small prey that coyotes usually feed on. On top of that, they possess the strong ability of coyotes to adapt to urban environments, and are comfortable in both open and forested environments. 

Keenan: I can see why this mixing would be beneficial, but is it considered evolution, or just hybridization? 

Serena: Both. Coywolves have certainly evolved, but they have done so through the process of hybridization. The Coywolf, or eastern coyote was created from a mix of different species, but has diverged enough from the parent species that many believe it should be treated a separate species, though no official decision has yet been made on this matter. 

Keenan: So coywolves aren’t considered a separate species?

Serena: Not yet. Coywolves have only been around for a few hundred years and are still in the earlier stages of their development, but many believe that they deserve to be recognized as their own species and will be soon. 

Keenan: From what you’ve said, I’m sure it won’t be long before scientists acknowledge them. So you’ve told us all about the specifics of coywolves, but how does their development link into the larger picture of evolution that we discuss in AP Bio?

Alex: Coywolves are, of course, only a very small part of evolutionary history. However, because their development is so recent they provide a good example of direct observation as proof of evolution, which is discussed in AP Bio Chapter 7.6.  

Keenan: And how do they exemplify direct observation of evolution?

Serena: Because coywolves have come into existence over only the past few hundred years, we, as humans, can visibly see the evolution from their parent species, coyotes, wolves, and dogs, to the new species of coywolves. This provides firm, observable evidence that species do change over time and evolution is something that happens, and, one can easily infer, has in the past as well.  

Keenan: That’s all the time we have for today. Thank you Alex and Serena for taking the time to speak with us, and to our audience, Thank you for listening to this episode of My AP Biology Thoughts. For more student-ran podcasts and digital content, make sure that you visit www.hvspn.com.  

Facts for Thoughts

References:

The Genesis of ‘Coywolves:’ A Story of Survival. (2015, December 9). Earthjustice. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://earthjustice.org/blog/2015-december/the-genesis-of-coywolves-a-story-of-survival

Humphrey, B. (2021, April 20). Coydog, Coywolf, or Coyote? The 5 Things You Need to Know About Eastern Canids. Outdoor Life. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.outdoorlife.com/story/hunting/eastern-coyote-facts/

Magazine, S. (2015, November 3). Coywolves are Taking Over Eastern North America. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/coywolves-are-taking-over-eastern-north-america-180957141/

N. (2019, February 9). What is a ‘Coywolf?’ Wolf Conservation Center. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://nywolf.org/2017/12/what-is-a-coywolf/

Spider, I., & Spider, I. (2014, December 23). Coywolf: A Modern Species. The Infinite Spider. Retrieved October 9, 2021, from https://infinitespider.com/coywolf-modern-species/ 

Way, J. G. (2016, May 12). Why the eastern coyote should be a separate species: the ‘coywolf.’ The Conversation. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://theconversation.com/why-the-eastern-coyote-should-be-a-separate-species-the-coywolf-59214

Music Credits:

  • "Ice Flow" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
  • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
  • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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