Discovering the secrets of Gulf Coast canids and how they may save the endangered red wolf

Institution: Michigan Technological University
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Why This Project Is Important 

Our project is working to ensure the persistence of red wolves into the 21st century through the revival of unique genetic ancestry found in Gulf Coast coyotes, who continue to thrive in their native Gulf Coast habitats. Most importantly, we are using our exciting discoveries to work with local collaborators to promote co-existence and tolerance of the unique wild, Gulf Coast canine population.

Project Description 

The Gulf Coast Canine Project’s goals are to understand the genetic ancestry and ecology of the unique wild canines persisting along the Gulf Coast of the United States. This project arose out of reports we had received of "different-looking" coyotes in southwestern Louisiana and eastern Texas. The pictures we were receiving from curious citizens were of canids that did not resemble the typical southeastern coyote; they were larger and more red-wolf like. Red wolves once roamed across the southeastern United States, until human activities caused their population to crash and the US Fish & Wildlife Service decided to remove remnant red wolves from the wild in the early 1980s. Yet, before they were removed from their last wild habitats along the Gulf Coast, red wolves hybridized with coyotes. Since the 1980s, when red wolves disappeared from the Gulf Coast, there have been scattered reports of wolf-like canids in remote regions of LA and TX. Our 2018 research on Galveston Island, TX, confirmed what locals knew for decades, that indeed some coyotes along the Gulf Coast have high amounts of red wolf genetics, and are unlike coyotes elsewhere. Hybridization was once thought to the greatest conservation threat to the red wolf, but now historic hybridization may be key to the species recovery. We are diligently working to understand these unique coyotes. Red wolves are still critically endangered and Gulf Coast coyotes are reservoirs of lost red wolf genetic ancestry that can bolster the small and vulnerable red wolf population. Additionally, Gulf Coast coyotes represent a unique, one of a kind, population of coyotes that may behave and respond to environmental change differently than other coyotes. To understand the effects of genetic ancestry on behavior and physiology of wild Gulf Coast canines, we are: 1.Live trapping canids along the Gulf Coast to collect genetic samples and morphology data. 2.Determining taxonomy with comprehensive genetic and morphological analyses. 3.Identifying historical red wolf ancestry and ghost alleles not present in extant red wolves.

Meet the Researcher

Kristin Brzeski

Dr. Kristin Brzeski is an Assistant Professor in the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University, where her lab’s research focuses on wildlife genetics, conservation, and management. Dr. Brzeski has been conducting red wolf conservation science since her PhD and is co-leading the initiative to understand the genetic ancestry and ecology of the unique Gulf Coast canid population. In addition to her canid research, Dr. Brzeski is a co-founder of Biodiversity Initiative, a NGO that works to conserve biodiversity. Currently, her team is working with local conservation practitioners to monitor and protect endemic Central Africa wildlife.

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What Your Donation Can Help Us Do: 

  • Buy GPS collars so we can track Gulf Coast canids and study their movements and behaviors.
  • Secure field and genetic sampling supplies necessary to sequence the genomes of Gulf Coast canids to estimate individual red wolf ancestry.
  • Purchase field cameras and equipment to track uncollared canids in our study region so we can better understand their habitat and land use patterns.
Although there are no rewards for this project, all donors will receive an email receipt with tax-deduction information.

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