Regional genetic diversity of large canids

A 2017 study released by Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs on over 400 DNA samples from canids in Québec provided a new perspective on the genetic makeup of the region’s wolves.

The large canids living inside and outside the park often are often hybrids. © Shutterstock
The large canids living inside and outside the park often are often hybrids.

Genetic identification and spatial distribution of large wild canids in Québec

This study, available in French only, identified four genetically distinct groups among Québec’s wild canids, in addition to hybridized animals among them. © Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec

Conducted by researchers Mainguy et al. (2017), the study looked at the genetic diversity of large canids and their distribution throughout Québec. The results, along with the genetic analyses carried out in 2018 on 38 samples from canids inside the park and on its periphery, helped confirm that the canids present in Parc national du Mont-Tremblant and the surrounding region are eastern wolves, boreal wolves, and eastern coyotes, often hybridized.

For more information:

Identification génétique et répartition spatiale des grands canidés sauvages au Québec (Mainguy et al. 2017) (in French only)

Gray wolf

The gray wolf, often associated with the taiga and tundra, is found in Northern Québec. © Shutterstock

The gray wolf is a circumpolar mammal whose ancestors, originally from North America, are thought to have migrated to Eurasia, where they lived for one to two million years, becoming differentiated, before returning to North America approximately 130,000 years ago in its current form. It is the only wolf found on two different continents. The gray wolf is the largest wild canid in North America. In Québec, it is usually found north of the 52nd parallel, where it feeds primarily on woodland and migratory caribou. 

Eastern wolf

The eastern wolf roams the large expanses of hardwood and mixed forests north of the St. Lawrence River. © Pierre-Yves Lafrance

In Québec, the eastern wolf is recognized as a distinct species (Canis sp. cf. lycaon) by increasing numbers of specialists, and its status is currently under evaluation by government authorities. Once present throughout eastern North America, it now occupies only a small part of its once-vast range. Predator management programs, the harvesting of large game by the first colonists, and logging for agricultural purposes are all factors that likely explain the gradual dwindling of the eastern wolf population. Today, the eastern wolf is found only in Québec and Ontario. It feeds primarily on white-tailed deer and beaver.

The eastern wolf is considered a mid-size wolf, somewhere between the size of a gray wolf and a coyote. While its fur coloring varies considerably, it is most often described as tawny, with more red and brown tints than the gray wolf. However, it can be difficult to identify the eastern wolf without genetic testing, since the individuals observed in the wild are easily confused with coyotes because of their similar appearance.

Boreal wolf

The boreal wolf is believed to occupy a range north of the eastern wolf’s range and south of that of the gray wolf. © Shutterstock

The boreal wolf is believed to be the result of an ancestral hybridization between the gray wolf and the eastern wolf when the two canids came into contact following the return of the gray wolf to North America. Another theory posits that the boreal wolf is in fact the result of the appearance of coyote genes in the gray wolf. Either way, this large predator constitutes an important genetic group in Québec. As its name suggests, this canid is associated with the boreal forest, which covers a vast stretch of Northern Québec.

Eastern coyote

The eastern coyote shares the park with the wolf. © Shutterstock

The eastern coyote, present in Québec only since the 1940s, is thought to be the result of a contemporary hybridization between the eastern wolf and the western coyote. The hybridization arose following the relatively recent yet rapid expansion of this canid into the eastern part of the continent, an expansion precipitated by habitat fragmentation and the extermination of the wolf. It is worth recalling that the coyote had occupied central North America for at least 1.5 million years, when it is presumed to have become differentiated from the wolf through a shared ancestor.

Given the introgression of eastern wolf genes in its genetic baggage, the eastern coyote tends to be larger than the western coyote, but smaller than the eastern wolf. The coyotes and wolves present in and around the park are sometimes similar in appearance and it can be easy to mistake one for the other. Generally speaking, however, coyotes have a narrower muzzle, larger ears, and proportionally smaller legs in relation to their body size. Nevertheless, the appearance of the eastern coyote and the eastern wolf can be somewhere between the two, resembling both a coyote and a wolf. This can make it very difficult to identify the animal without genetic testing.

Hybrid individuals

Proportion of genetic material of the four groups of canids in the individuals in and around the park analyzed in 2018. (Legend: Eastern Wolf, Boreal Wolf, Eastern Coyote, Dog) © Sépaq


Among canids, there is a form of “plasticity” that explains how two individuals from two different genetic groups can breed and produce fertile offspring. This phenomenon goes some way to explaining the genetic variability between wolf and coyote.

The results of the analysis of 38 DNA samples taken by the park in 2018 clearly show the hybridization between large canids in and around the park.

Large canids in Parc national du Mont-Tremblant

Legend: Range of large canids, Gray Wolf, Boreal Wolf, Eastern Wolf, Western Coyote, Eastern Coyote © Sépaq


Parc national du Mont-Tremblant is located in the heart of the range of the eastern wolf, the boreal wolf, and the eastern coyote. Its geographical position—along with a number of recent studies—reveal the presence of all of these canids in the park, as well as a significant number of hybrid individuals, which is why, when you spot a large canid in or around the park, don’t be too quick to cry wolf! 

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