Consensus Report

Evaluating the Taxonomic Status of the Mexican Gray Wolf and the Red Wolf (2019)

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Scientists strive to develop clear rules for naming and grouping living organisms. But taxonomy, the scientific study of biological classification and evolution, is often highly debated. Members of a species, the fundamental unit of taxonomy and evolution, share a common evolutionary history and a common evolutionary path to the future. Yet, it can be difficult to determine whether the evolutionary history or future of a population is sufficiently distinct to designate it as a unique species.

A species is not a fixed entity -- the relationship among the members of the same species is only a snapshot of a moment in time. Different populations of the same species can be in different stages in the process of species formation or dissolution. In some cases hybridization and introgression can create enormous challenges in interpreting data on genetic distinctions between groups. Hybridization is far more common in the evolutionary history of many species than previously recognized. As a result, the precise taxonomic status of an organism may be highly debated. This is the current case with the Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) and the red wolf (Canis rufus), and this report assesses the taxonomic status for each.