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DNA confirms Oregon wolf packs are interbreeding

 Posted: 3:05 PM November 21, 2012

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports new information about how wolves are moving and interbreeding in Oregon.

Recently released data comes from two wolves: newly collared OR-16 and OR-12, an Imnaha pack wolf that has bred in the Wenaha pack.

OR-16 is a new wolf that was radio-collared earlier this month. Officials now believe he is from the Walla Walla pack after satellite downloads from his radio collar show the wolf has been traveling with OR-10, a female from the Walla Walla pack.

The state also reports that the results of DNA tests of scat in the Wenaha wolf pack territory show OR-12, who was born into the Imnaha pack, is now the breeding male in the Wenaha pack.

It's the first confirmed case of interbreeding among Oregon wolves, according to ODFW.

ODFW's wolf coordinator Russ Morgan said it's common for wolves to disperse from one pack and breed with another, but this is the first time the state has been able to document it happening in Oregon.

"Our ability to observe it is new," he said. "Realistically, these packs are continually changing just like any other wildlife. But now we have the genetic ability to see that unfold and understand the relationships."

The state has taken genetic samples from blood and tissue of all the wolves it has captured so far, Morgan said. Now it has DNA from 16 different wolves and can use that data to compare the genetics of known wolves and wolf packs.

"It's phenomenal," Morgan said. "Just six or seven years ago it was hard to even identify wolves as being hybrid or domestic wolves. But because DNA databases have gained in size, we can determine things like whether a wolf is male or female, whether it came from an Idaho-introduced species or another source, and the relationships with other known sampled wolves."

— Cassandra Profita, Ecotrope

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