All Modern Wolves (Canis lupus) Descend from a Population that Originated in Beringia

All wolves in the northern hemisphere descend from a population originating in Beringia, according to a recent study of wolf DNA. Beringia is the geographic region including western Alaska, eastern Siberia, and formerly the Bering land bridge when it was above sea level during Ice Ages. Scientists examined the DNA from 90 “modern” wolf specimens (those dating to less than 500 years old and 40 “ancient” wolf specimens (those dating to more than 500 years old). They concluded the population of wolves living in Beringia 50,000 years ago eventually expanded across Eurasia and North America and displaced the populations of wolves that were already living there. Ice sheets blocked expansion into North America until about 15,000 years ago. There is not enough data to know for sure how similar Beringian wolves were to North America wolves living below the Ice Sheet before the expansion.

Graph showing expansion of the Beringian wolf population across the Northern Hemisphere during the Late Pleistocene. From the below referenced paper.

Late Pleistocene wolves were larger and had teeth, skulls, and jaws that were more robust than modern gray wolves, though they were not as robust as those of the extinct dire wolves (C. dirus) formerly found throughout most of North America. Dire wolves were not at all closely related to gray wolves and were separated by at least 1 million years of evolutionary divergence. Late Pleistocene wolves were well adapted to scavenging and/or hunting mammoths, horses, and bison. The population of wolves from Beringia may have specialized in hunting caribou and perhaps followed caribou herds over long distances. Maybe this explains how they became so widespread. The other wolves, so well adapted to hunting megafauna, didn’t survive megafauna extinctions, but Beringian wolves following caribou herds did.

The results of this recent study contradict an older study that concluded modern gray wolves didn’t descend from the more robust Beringian wolves. The authors of the newer paper explain their study had a greater sample size and looked at more of the wolf DNA than the older study did. It certainly eliminates the mystery of where modern Alaskan wolves originated. They’ve had a continuous presence in the region for a very long time.


Loog, Lisa, et. al.

“Ancient DNA Suggests Modern Wolves Track their Origin to a Late Pleistocene Expansion from Beringia”

Molecular Ecology Jan 2020

One Response to “All Modern Wolves (Canis lupus) Descend from a Population that Originated in Beringia”

  1. All wolves are from Beringia. – Stephen Bodio Says:

    […] All Modern Wolves (Canis lupus) Descend from a Population that Originated in Beringia […]

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