Phylogenetic evidence for the ancient Himalayan wolf: towards a clarification of its taxonomic status based on genetic sampling from western Nepal
Wolves in the Himalayan region form a monophyletic lineage distinct from the present-day Holarctic grey wolf Canis lupus spp. (Linnaeus 1758) found across Eurasia and North America. Here, we analyse phylogenetic relationships and the geographic distribution of mitochondrial DNA haplotypes of the contemporary Himalayan wolf (proposed in previous studies as Canis himalayensis) found in Central Asia. We combine genetic data from a living Himalayan wolf population collected in northwestern Nepal in this study with already published genetic data, and confirm the Himalayan wolf lineage based on mitochondrial genomic data (508 bp cytochrome b and 242 bp D-loop), and X- and Y-linked zinc-finger protein gene (ZFX and ZFY) sequences. We then compare the genetic profile of the Himalayan wolf lineage found in northwestern Nepal with canid reference sequences from around the globe with maximum likelihood and Bayesian phylogeny building methods to demonstrate that the Himalayan wolf forms a distinct monophyletic clade supported by posterior probabilities/bootstrap for D-loop of greater than 0.92/85 and cytochrome b greater than 0.99/93. The Himalayan wolf shows a unique Y-chromosome (ZFY) haplotype, and shares an X-chromosome haplotype (ZFX) with the newly postulated African wolf. Our results imply that the Himalayan wolf distribution range extends from the Himalayan range north across the Tibetan Plateau up to the Qinghai Lakes region in Qinghai Province in the People's Republic of China. Based on its phylogenetic distinction and its older age of divergence relative to the Holarctic grey wolf, the Himalayan wolf merits formal classification as a distinct taxon of special conservation concern.