DNA analysis and carbon dating of ancient Alaskan wolf remains shows that they went extinct 12,000 years ago, and today's Alaskan wolves are not their descendants. Steve Mirsky reports.
Wolves have roamed the wilds of Alaska for thousands of years, right? Well, yes and no. Because a team of scientists has found that the ancient gray wolves of Alaska actually went extinct about 12,000 years ago. And the wolves in Alaska today are not their descendants, they’re a unique subspecies. The report appears in the journal Current Biology.
Scientists analyzed DNA samples and did carbon dating of ancient gray wolf remains stored at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. They did similar investigations of modern Alaskan wolves and found that the ancient remains were genetically distinct.
The ancient wolves lived in Alaska continuously from at least 45,000 years ago til they went extinct 12,000 years ago. They competed for food with lions, saber-toothed cats and gigantic bears. The extinct wolves were about the same size as today’s. But they had much larger teeth and jaw muscles, and could kill large bison.
Many mammals became extinct about the same time as the old wolves. Possible causes include competition from humans for the same prey and the global warming that marked the end of the Late Pleistocene.