Nearly 200 years after Charles Darwin wondered how a fox-looking wolf came to live on South American islands hundreds of miles from the mainland, scientists think they have the answer.
The Falkland Islands wolf, the only land animal believed to have occupied the Falkland Islands before it was hunted into extinction in the 19th century, trekked to its final home over ice sheets during the last ice age, researchers concluded.
The wolf, Dusicyon australis, became isolated from its sister species, Dusicyon avus, on the South America mainland about 16,000 years ago, according to the study published Tuesday in Nature Communications. The predator likely followed its food source: penguins, seals and sea birds.
Scientists traced the wolf’s ancestry by studying its four-legged relatives in South America. The team studied the DNA of six distinct Dusicyon avus teeth between 3,000 and 7,800 years old and genetic makeup from nearly every extinct and living species of South American canid.