Long genetic isolation matters in another way.
Larisa DeSantis, a paleontologist at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research, said this was in line with the idea of North American ancestry for terrible wolves.
They were here at least 250,000 years ago and they were still there, although they were nearing the end of their existence when the first humans arrived on the American continent perhaps 15,000 years ago.
“You weren’t that gigantic mythical creature, but an animal that most likely interacted with humans,” said Dr. Perri.
In search of fossils that could provide the DNA of an ancient terrifying wolf, Dr. Perri worked with a number of other researchers around the world, including Kieren Mitchell, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Adelaide; Alice Mouton, geneticist at the University of Los Angeles; and Sandra Álvarez-Carretero, a PhD student in genomics at Queen Mary University of London.
They combed museums to find 46 bone samples that may contain useful DNA. Five did it. “We were really lucky,” said Dr. Perri. “And we found a lot of things that we didn’t really expect.”
The results were surprising because bad wolf skeletons are similar to gray wolf skeletons and no DNA was available. Xiaoming Wang, a paleontologist at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, published one Review of fossil evidence in 2009 That put the terrible wolf straight into the Canis genus, calling the new paper a “milestone”, adding that “morphology is not foolproof”.
Regarding why the terrible wolf became extinct and wolves survived, the authors speculated that its long genetic isolation and lack of crossbreeding with other species may have made it less able to adapt to the disappearance of its main prey species. More promiscuous species, such as gray wolves and coyotes, acquired potentially useful genes from other species.