Scientists Have Assembled the Largest Canine Family Tree Ever

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-01 21:40

This newest and largest canine family tree gives insights on how over 150 modern dog breeds evolved.

The study was able to make quite a lot of new discoveries about our furry best friends. For a species that we've been living with for millennia, there sure is a lot we didn't know about dogs. That will now change, of course, as this new canine family tree provides more information on our four-legged companions.

Old Friends are Gold

[Photo by Dan Gold]

Humans have had dogs as companions for a long time. Dogs have a longer history of domestication than any other animal in the world.

They also hold the distinction of being something that nearly all ancient cultures had in common. There is evidence that dogs are the only domesticated animal that appeared on every continent in the world in ancient times.

Nth Generation Migrants

A pair of Mexican hairless dogs

Evidence shows that some modern dog breeds are descendants of an ancient dog breed that migrated with the ancestors of Native Americans. This “New World dog”, as scientists call it, crossed the land bridge from Asia to the Americas with their human companions.

Experts thought that when European settlers brought their own dogs to the Americas, the New World dog was overcome. However, this may not be the case. Researchers say that the New World dog gave rise to modern hairless breeds. This includes the Mexican and Peruvian hairless dog breeds.

Selective Breeding

The very recognizable golden retriever
[Photo by Tanner Vines]

Gun dog breeds—retrievers, pointers, and spaniels—also have a common though much more recent origin. They trace their ancestry back to Victorian England, an era in which sporting dog breeds thrived.

The researchers also found an interesting tidbit about the canine family tree of retrievers. While the Labrador retriever is a close relative of the golden retriever, it is also genetically related to Irish setters, English setters, and Airedale terriers.

Selective breeding also caused a genetic split that gave rise to flat-coated retrievers and the shaggier golden retriever. Genetic data points to the year 1895 as the beginning of the split. According to historical records, selective breeding took place in the years 1868 to 1890.

Surprise, Surprise

The Australian shepherd is famous for its high intelligence and trainability.
[Photo byMartin Voss]

Now, we could say that dogs that look similar also have similar origins. We'd be wrong to make that generalization, though, as it's not always the case. One of the more surprising discoveries in the research concerns herding dogs.

Herding dogs are extremely intelligent, hard-working, and energetic. They'd have to be if they're to herd flocks of sheep and other animals around. These dogs have been an important component in farming for quite a while.

Evidence shows that herding dog breeds developed at different times in the course of human history as different traits became necessary. The researchers also found that seemingly diverse dog breeds have the same origins. The border collie and the greyhound, for example, have similar UK-based origins. According to the researchers, humans might have bred hunting dogs later on in history to fill a role in agricultural tasks.

Tracing the Canine Family Tree

A Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, also known as a toller
[Photo by Kallerna]

The research isn't just an insight into the genetic history of dogs. It can also provide insight into the common diseases that specific breeds suffer from. For example, they discovered that sheepdog breeds may have introduced a genetic mutation to the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. This genetic mutation causes an eye disease, which is common in collies, in the toller.

This new canine family tree is the result of a masterful study that has uncovered quite a number of revelations. Scientists expect that the research may be able to lead to more revelations about our furry four-legged friends.

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