How many jackal species do we have in East Africa?

(Scroll down for Swahili version)

If you have read my previous article about hyrax-elephant relationships (if you haven’t I’d suggest reading it now) you’ll know that studying DNA gives us a good picture of relationships between animals. It can sometimes give surprise us by telling us that animals that look quite different are actually related, or it can help us figure out where in the family tree an animal belongs- like the cheetah in the cat family.

In this article I want to talk about the dog family. Even though the dog family is one of the best studied families of animal, mainly because of our love for dogs, they’re actually quite a difficult family for researchers because species of wild canids are actually really similar and there’s enough hybridization that creates a real mess when you’re trying to compare DNA. There are also different ways to look at DNA and so you can sometimes get results that don’t totally agree. This is where we need to be open and willing to accept new information.

When I began guiding, I knew that there were three genera of dogs found in East Africa. The Bat-eared fox belonged to the genus Otocyon and was more closely related to the foxes than to the wolves. Likewise, the African wild dog belonged to its own genus Lycaon and was separate from the wolf like dogs- the Canis genus. East Africa’s members of the Canis genus were commonly known as jackals and we had three species of jackal; the Black-backed jackal, the Side-striped jackal, and the Golden jackal. Golden jackals were a very widespread species that was found all the way into north Africa and the southern Asian continent. This was the common knowledge until recently when some studies on the DNA of the dog family has given us some relatively surprising information. In 2011, some researchers studying dog genetics realized that the animal we all knew as a Golden jackal was actually two species that just looked very similar. More research published in 2015 confirmed this.

A hand drawn family tree compiled from various papers showing relative relationships. The length of the branches is not to any scale.

Prior to that, the dog species on Africa that was the Grey wolf’s closest relative was considered to be the endemic Ethiopian wolf that had been isolated in the Ethiopian highlands after an ice-age, and then adapted to the unique environment. The new information coming from DNA studies was showing that the Golden jackal that we know from East Africa is actually a descendent of the Grey wolf that had dispersed into Africa and has been renamed the Golden wolf- Canis anthus. The “real” Golden jackal (Canis aureus) is a species found in the Middle East and southern Asia.

What this research also discovered was that the Black-backed jackal and Side-striped jackal are removed enough to deserve their own genus called Lupulella. It will probably take some time for this new genus name to catch on, just like Vachelia and Senegalia instead of Acacia.

Swahili version

Kama umeona nakala iliyopita kuhusu uhusiano kati ya pimbi na tembo utafahamu kua utafiti wa DNA inatupa picha nzuri ya uhusiano kati ya wanyama. Mara nyingine habari zinatushangaza kwa kutuambia kwamba wanyama wasiofanana kumbe wana uhusiano wa karibu, au inaweza kutusaidia kuelewa sehemu mnyama anapostahili kuwepo kwenye mti wa familia- kwa mfano duma kwenye familia ya paka.

Kwenye nakala hii ninataka kuongea kuhusu familia ya mbwa. Familia ya mbwa ni kati ya familia ya wanyama iliofanyiwa utafiti mkubwa kuliko zingine, haswa kwa sababu ya upendo wetu wa mbwa, lakini kumbe ni familia ngumu kwa watafiti kwa sababu spishi za mbwa mwitu hufanana sana na vilevile ku-hybridize. Kitu kinachochanganya wakati wa kufananisha DNA. Vilevile, kuna mbinu tofauti ya kufananisha DNA na mara kusababisha matokeo yasiokubaliana. Hapa ndipo tunapohitaji kuwa wazi kwa kukubali habari mpya.

Nilivyoanza fani ya guiding, nilijua kuna jenasi tatu za mbwa waliopatikana Afrika Mashariki. Mbweha masikio alikuwa kwenye jenasi ya Otocyon na ana uhusiano wa karibu na FOXES kuliko WOLVES. Vilevile, Mbwa mwitu alikuwa kwenye jenasi yake mwenyewe (Lycaon) iliotengwa na jenasi ya Canis. Mbwa kwenye jenasi ya Canis waliopatikana Afrika Mashariki walijulikana kama mbweha na walikuwepo spishi tatu wakiwemo Mbweha mgongo-jeusi, mbweha mstari, na mbweha dhahabu. Mbweha dhahabu walikua wanaopatikana eneo kubwa sana hadi Afrika magharibi na kusini wa Asia. Huu ujumbe ulukuwa wa kawaida hadi utafiti wa karibuni ya DNA wa familia ya mbwa umetufafanulia habari ya kushangaza. Mwaka 2011, watafiti waliokuwa wanatafiti maumbile ya mbwa waligundua kuwa mnyama tunayemfahamu kama Mbweha dhahabu kumbe alikuwa spishi mbili waliofanana sana. Utafiti uliochapishwa mwaka 2015 ilithibitisha.

Kabla ya hapo, spishi ya mbwa mwenye uhusiano wa karibu na Grey wolf alikuwa mbwa anayeitwa Ethiopian wolf ambaye alikuwa ametengwa kwenye milima ya Ethiopia baada ya kipindi cha barafu na kubadilika kwenye mazingira yale. Habari mapya yaliokuwa yanatokea kwenye utafiti wa DNA ilitueleza kuwa Mbweha dhahabu tuliemfahamu kutoka Afrika Mashariki kumbe asili yake kuwa Grey wolf ambaye alisajisambaza Africa zamani, na amepewa jina la Golden wolf- na kwa kisayansi Canis anthus. Mbweha dhahabu wa kweli ni spishi anayepatikana Asia ya kati na kusini wa Asia.

Huu utafiti ulionyesha pia kwamba Mbweha mgongo-jeusi na Mbweha mstari wako mbali kutosha kupewa jenasi lingine likiitwa Lupulella. Ninahisi itachukua muda kabla ya hili jina halijakubalika, vile kama Vachelia na Senegalia badala ya Acacia katika majina ya miti.

Sources

Klaus-Peter Koepfli and many others. Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species, Current Biology, Volume 25, Issue 16,2015, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.060.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982215007873)

Carolyne Bardeleben, Rachael L. Moore, Robert K. Wayne, A molecular phylogeny of the Canidae based on six nuclear loci, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Volume 37, Issue 3, 2005,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2005.07.019.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1055790305002502)

Viranta, S., Atickem, A., Werdelin, L. et al. Rediscovering a forgotten canid species. BMC Zool 2, 6 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40850-017-0015-0

Rueness, E. K., Asmyhr, M. G., et al. The Cryptic African Wolf: Canis aureus lupaster is not a Golden Jackal and Is not Endemic to Egypt. 2011. PLOS. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0016385

1 reply

  1. It’s all facts and touchable based in wildlife ecology and natural history throw researches the only this gives us the truth and primary information about wildlife. When I get to know about the relation between hyruxs and elephants and explain to people was like something new, a breaking news but some said the relation is theoretical not by DNA. What’s my point? We know things by hearing what someone say not by stadying (copy and pest). Thanks for reseachable information Ethan. Dickson weiter at lamai Serengeti.

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