Carpathia Study: First Wolf-Dog Hybrid Species Discovered in Romania

English Section / 8 noiembrie 2023

Carpathia Study: First Wolf-Dog Hybrid Species Discovered in Romania

Versiunea în limba română

The monitoring of wolves over a three-year study in the Făgăraş Mountains has confirmed the first discovery of a wolf-dog hybrid species in Romania. The Conservation Carpathia Foundation organized a media visit to the Richita Nature Activities and Exploration Center in the southern part of the Făgăraş Mountains to share genetic study information about wolves. The study of this species was coordinated by Dr. biologist Ruben Iosif, the coordinator of the wildlife monitoring department at the Conservation Carpathia Foundation. Alongside his colleague Zsolt Miholcea, they analyzed the DNA of wolves in the Southern Carpathians over a period of three years (2017-2020).

Carpathia Study: First Wolf-Dog Hybrid Species Discovered in Romania

The Wolf, the Most Complex Species

Of the three major carnivore species in terms of size - bear, wolf, and lynx - the wolf is the most interesting and complex species, as biologist Ruben Iosif mentioned. It is a medium-sized animal weighing between 25 and 30 kg, with a natural lifespan of around 7 years and up to 10-15 years in captivity, as Ruben states. "Wolves have the most specialized diet, with the main prey species being wild boar, roe deer, and red deer, all of which are large-sized species. To hunt them, wolves need to be strong, which is why they hunt in packs, communicate, and establish their roles very well: one stays in the valley, another on the ridge, another in the middle of the slope. They watch for weaker animals, isolate them, and then attack," according to Ruben. Due to their limited diet and the fact that wild boar, roe deer, and red deer are all cherished by humans, there is a fierce competition for survival, as the study coordinator adds.

Genetic Study of Wolves

The study of wolves conducted by the Conservation Carpathia Foundation's team began in the winter of 2017 and continued until the winter of 2020. Over three winters, this species was monitored in the Southern Carpathians, specifically in the southern part of the Făgăraş Mountains, covering an area of 1300-1400 km2. The study started in the field, with teams going out in the winter to find wolf tracks. Once identified, they followed the tracks until they found non-invasive DNA samples. According to Ruben, non-invasive DNA samples come in three forms: those collected from feces, urine on snow, and hair samples. These samples contain non-invasive DNA, meaning that humans have no direct contact with the animal; specifically, the samples were the mucus from feces and a small amount of DNA from the root of a hair, as the biologist explains. Non-invasive DNA samples from forest feces were collected using a kit. According to Zsolt Miholcea, only a portion of the feces, "the part with the most mucus, is placed in a tube with alcohol. Then, a label with the name of the person who collected the sample, the GPS location of where it was found, the date, the species, and an attempt to determine the sample's age is completed. We do not collect samples older than 5 days since they no longer contain sufficient DNA to be relevant." Zsolt notes that there is also an application where all this data is entered, and the corresponding information appears in real-time. Subsequently, the samples are sent to the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, with whom the Carpathia Foundation collaborates. "After collecting these genetic captures of individuals, abundance, density, sex ratio, pack size, and parental rates can be obtained through mathematical modeling to reconstruct these families. Over the course of the three-year study, 510 such samples were collected," says Ruben. In addition to this method, Carpathia researchers also installed surveillance cameras in the area to closely monitor and analyze the species.

Study Results Within the study, 48 wolves were identified, including 27 males, 20 females, and one wolf-dog hybrid

The data revealed that 40 wolves and the hybrid were grouped into 6 packs, while the remaining 7 individuals were either transients or belonged to neighboring packs. Carpathia specialists estimated the density in the studied area at 2.35 wolves/100m2, which is lower compared to Yellowstone National Park in the United States (5-9.8 wolves/100m2) or the northern Apennines in Italy, where packs are more fragmented (4.7 wolves/100m2). The study results also showed changes in breeding pairs and unexpected alterations in pack composition, specifically in two of the six packs. Furthermore, the study indicated that the largest pack in the monitored area consisted of 7 individuals.

Carpathia Study: First Wolf-Dog Hybrid Species Discovered in Romania

Wolf-Dog Hybrid Monitoring wolves over the course of three years in the Făgăraş Mountains confirmed the first discovery of a wolf-dog hybrid in Romania

In Romania, hybridization is a phenomenon caused by feral dogs that have entered wolf habitat. According to Ruben, "Although hybridization may seem like an insignificant threat at this time, it can evolve and lead to genetic degradation followed by the complete extinction of this species over time." According to Carpathia specialists, "For every 3 wolf detections on monitoring cameras in forested habitat, there is also a detection of stray dogs." Moreover, researchers collected saliva samples from 21 dogs in the study area concurrently with the collection of DNA samples left by wolves to evaluate this phenomenon. According to Ruben, "It is important to monitor these wolves over the long term so that wildlife management and conflict resolution with farmers are based on scientific data." He adds that through monitoring this species, "we can make decisions, create coexistence models, and raise alarms when dangers arise, both for humans and wolves, as is the case with the phenomenon of hybridization." Official estimates show that the wolf population in Romania is around 3,000 individuals, but scientific monitoring methods were not used in calculating these figures, as Ruben points out. Carpathia researchers inform that "the absence of wolves or other natural predators can lead to imbalances in the ecosystem, with consequences for biodiversity and the overall health of the ecosystem." Sweden serves as a concrete example, where due to hunting, there are few wolves left, and moose are causing damage to the forest, according to Carpathia experts.