Quartz has a quizzical piece up, which is useful for fleshing out the incoherency of some tendencies within conservation biology. It turns out that the large coyotes which have been expanding across the eastern United States as the forests have taken over abandoned farmlands (due to the shift of agricultural activity to the Midwest in the 20th century from New England and Mid-Atlantic). To no one’s surprise these coyotes are filling the niche of the timber wolves of yore, predating upon the white-tailed deer whose numbers have increased with the rewilding of the landscape. But there’s a twist in this tale:
…scientists have since discovered these super-sized coyotes are only about two-thirds coyote. About 10% of their genes belong to domestic dogs and a quarter comes from wolves, with which they hybridized as they moved east north of the Great Lakes.
Monzón says hybridization enabled eastern coyotes to adapt quickly to fill the niche left by wolves. In fact, areas with the highest densities of deer had coyotes with the greatest proportion of wolf in their genomes. “There was a very rich resource that was waiting to be exploited,” says Monzón. “They’ve done very well here.”
So what’s the problem? As observed later in the piece our own species is to some extent a compound of diverged lineages. This pattern of reticulated ancestry is as old as evolutionary process itself. The “tree” metaphor was simply a stylized fact which elided detail so we could get to the heart of the matter in attempting to understand in our bones what common descent entailed. But supposedly there are rumblings:
Some scientists and conservationists see the coywolf as a nightmare of the Anthropocene—a poster child of mongrelization as plants and animals reshuffle in response to habitat loss, climate change and invasive species.
I am curious about any scientist that would use the term “mongrelization.” Name the scientists. It strikes me that a ghost-strawman is being set up here. But I’m willing to be proven wrong.
The reality is that many biologists have had issues with the biological species concept as an idealized and Platonic ideal, as opposed to an instrumental concept. Plant biologists have never had much truck with a strict form of the biological species concept, and how exactly does it to apply to asexual organisms? Our public policy has been built on a narrow conception of biological purity which only holds in a small slice of the tree of life, and even there it is violated constantly. Our own species is here as proof of that.