Insights into Coyote Range Expansion and Population Structure in the Eastern United States

Cosio, Daniela [Browse]
Senior thesis
77 pages


vonHoldt, Bridgett [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Within the last hundred years, coyotes have expanded their range eastwards from the Great Plains of the United States to the eastern coast of Canada and the U.S, driven by intensive logging and a switch to agriculture from the Great Plains and drawn to the east by the extirpation of grey wolves and red wolves. In the past century, the northern front has hybridized with wolves while the southern front has remained fairly similar to its original ancestor in the Great Plains. The two fronts are now meeting along the eastern coast of the United States. This study poses four main questions surrounding coyote range expansion and population structure: 1) Are the northeastern and southeastern coyote fronts two genetically distinct populations? 2) If so, is there evidence of hybridization between the two fronts? 3) To which population do individuals found between the two fronts belong? 4) Do sub-populations exist within the different fronts? Tissue samples were collected from individuals in five states: 212 from Florida, 167 from Pennsylvania, 88 from Ohio, 5 from Virginia, and 5 from Alabama. Each sample pertains to a different individual. DNA from each sample was extracted and subsequently genotyped. Ten loci were analyzed for each individual: Pez17, Pez16, Pez11, FH3399, FH2658, FH2611, FH2137, FH2010, FH2004, and FH2001. This study finds that there are two genetically distinct populations of coyotes in the east, one population made up of individuals from Ohio and Pennsylvania and the other made up of individuals from Florida. While there is evidence of admixture between the two main populations, there are significantly different enough to be considered two different populations. While there is not much hybridization occurring within the northern most and southern most states analyzed (Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida), there is hybridization occurring between the two fronts in Virginia and Alabama. Individuals from these two states originate form both main populations. We also found that there do exist sub-populations within the two larger populations identified. Pennsylvania has two sub-populations split along a west-east divide and Florida also has two sub-populations split along the panhandle. This paper poses hypotheses for the sub-structure present in these states and lays the groundwork for future research on coyote range expansion and population structure in the eastern United States.

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