What is it about?

South America harbors one of the world’s most diverse canid communities, but little is known about the group’s evolutionary history. Daniel Eduardo Chavez and colleagues analyzed 31 genomes of South American canids, representing 22 species. The analysis suggested a single shared ancestor that arrived on the continent between 3.9 million and 3.5 million years ago. The founding population first began to diversify east of the Andes, before the Lycalopex genus dispersed west of the Andes and experienced substantial interspecies gene flow. The authors identified several genes that explain the vast differences in evolutionary traits between bush dogs and the maned wolf and that are implicated in digestion, limb development, interdigital webbing, and tooth morphology. Notably, major genetic changes occurred in some canid species when grasslands were expanding and forested areas were shrinking during the Pleistocene Epoch. Further, the data indicates a current inbreeding strain on the Darwin fox during a recent population decline—a finding with conservation implications. Together, the results illuminate the evolution of canids in South America and demonstrate a key role for topography and climate. — M.K.H (PNAS).

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Why is it important?

Our results reveal evolutionary insights into the adaptive radiation of the most diverse community of endemic canids, which have puzzled evolutionary biologists and naturalists for centuries.


This paper shed light on the evolution of a unique carnivoran radiation and how it was shaped by South American topography and climate change. Also, this work at the molecular level the remarkable morpological between sister taxa maned wolf and bush dog.

Daniel Chavez
Arizona State University

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This page is a summary of: Comparative genomics uncovers the evolutionary history, demography, and molecular adaptations of South American canids, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2205986119.
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