A new DNA study of the golden jackal found in Africa (Canis aureus) shows that the animal is in fact a wolf. So, scientists had to recently rename it and call it “the African golden wolf” (Canis anthus).
Researchers are now thrilled over the newly found wolf because it is the first new species discovered in more than one century.
Nevertheless, Asia also hosts golden jackals, but scientists explained that the Eurasian specimens are genuine golden jackals due to their smaller size, narrower skull, and weaker bite than their African peers. Moreover, DNA analysis confirmed that species referred to as golden jackal until recently was two different species.
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Klaus-Peter Koepfli, senior researcher involved in the study who proposed the new name for the African golden jackal, admitted that he was “surprised” when his team made the discovery.
Biologists had a hunch that the animals may be two completely different species several years ago. For instance, three years ago a French biologist, Philippe Gaubert, published a study which showed that the African Canis aureus may in fact be a subspecies of the gray wolf. Gaubert also based his study on a DNA analysis.
But when Koepfli found the study, he wanted to double check the findings by using DNA samples taken from jackals located in wider geographic areas and comparing the genome of the golden jackal with that of the gray wolf.
During their study, researchers analyzed the genes of nearly 130 canids, a class of carnivorous animals including wolves, jackals, dogs, and other dog-like species. DNA tests clearly showed that golden jackals that live in Africa and Asia are two different animals.
The team also found that Dr. Gaubert mistakenly classified the African golden jackal as a subspecies of a gray wolf. Instead the African version of the golden jackal is in fact a completely new species of wolf – the golden wolf.
On the other hand, Dr. Gaubert is not fully convinced that the animal is a new species. He said that there are gaps in the new study and more research needed to be done before reaching a conclusion.
But other researchers agree with the new study’s results. For instance, Dr. Greger Larson, from Oxford University believes that the study has enough evidence to back the conclusions.
“It’s a super airtight case,”
The new study was published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.
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