Research Assistant Position in Canine Genetics

We are looking for a qualified and motivated Research Assistant to work on a project focused on canine behavioural genetics. We welcome applications from candidates with an MSc degree and experience in molecular biology lab work. It is desirable for candidates to have a PhD degree in genetics or a related field, but this is not essential.
The project will run at the University of Lincoln under supervision of Dr Malgorzata Pilot and Prof. Daniel Mills. The project will start no later than 1 May 2018 and last 6 months until 31 October 2018.
Please look at the vacancy advert for more information:

Wolf-dog hybridisation across Eurasia

A new paper was published in Evolutionary Applications:

Widespread, long-term admixture between grey wolves and domestic dogs across Eurasia and its implications for the conservation status of hybrids

Authors: Małgorzata Pilot, Claudia Greco, Bridgett M. vonHoldt, Ettore Randi, Włodzimierz Jędrzejewski, Vadim E. Sidorovich, Maciej K. Konopiński, Elaine A. Ostrander, Robert K. Wayne

Hybridisation between a domesticated species and its wild ancestor is an important conservation problem, especially if it results in the introgression of domestic gene variants into wild species. Nevertheless, the legal status of hybrids remains unregulated, partially because of the limited understanding of the hybridisation process and its consequences. The occurrence of hybridisation between grey wolves and domestic dogs is well-documented from different parts of the wolf geographic range, but little is known about the frequency of hybridisation events, their causes and the genetic impact on wolf populations. We analysed 61K SNPs spanning the canid genome in wolves from across Eurasia and North America and compared that data to similar data from dogs to identify signatures of admixture. The haplotype block analysis, which included 38 autosomes and the X chromosome, indicated the presence of individuals of mixed wolf-dog ancestry in most Eurasian wolf populations, but less admixture was present in North American populations. We found evidence for male-biased introgression of dog alleles into wolf populations, but also identified a first-generation hybrid resulting from mating between a female dog and a male wolf. We found small blocks of dog ancestry in the genomes of 62% Eurasian wolves studied and melanistic individuals with no signs of recent admixed ancestry, but with a dog-derived allele at a locus linked to melanism. Consequently, these results suggest that hybridisation has been occurring in different parts of Eurasia on multiple timescales and is not solely a recent phenomenon. Nevertheless, wolf populations have maintained genetic differentiation from dogs, suggesting that hybridisation at a low frequency does not diminish distinctiveness of the wolf gene pool. However, increased hybridisation frequency may be detrimental for wolf populations, stressing the need for genetic monitoring to assess the frequency and distribution of individuals resulting from recent admixture.

Kinship structure in common dolphins

A new paper has been published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology:

Temporal and geographic patterns of kinship structure in common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) suggest site fidelity and female-biased long-distance dispersal

Laura Ball, Kypher Shreves, Małgorzata Pilot, André E. Moura


Social structure plays a crucial role in determining a species’ dispersal patterns and genetic structure. Cetaceans show a diversity of social and mating systems, but their effects on dispersal and genetic structure are not well known, in part because of technical difficulties in obtaining robust observational data. Here, we combine genetic profiling and GIS analysis to identify patterns of kin distribution over time and space, to infer mating structure and dispersal patterns in short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis). This species is highly social, and exhibits weak spatial genetic structure in the Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, thought to result from fluid social structure and low levels of site fidelity. We found that although sampled groups were not composed of closely related individuals, close kin were frequently found in the same geographic location over several years. Our results suggest that common dolphin exhibits some level of site fidelity, which could be explained by foraging for temporally varying prey resource in areas familiar to individuals. Dispersal from natal area likely involves long-distance movements of females, as males are found more frequently than females in the same locations as their close kin. Long-distance dispersal may explain the near panmixia observed in this species. By analysing individuals sampled in the same geographic location over multiple years, we avoid caveats associated with divergence-based methods of inferring sex-biased dispersal. We thus provide a unique perspective on this species’ social structure and dispersal behaviour, and how it relates to the observed low levels of population genetic structure in European waters.


The full text can be accessed using this link:

Wolf population genetics in Europe

A new paper has been published in Biological Reviews:

Wolf population genetics in Europe: a systematic review, meta-analysis and suggestions for conservation and management

Maris Hindrikson, Jaanus Remm, Malgorzata Pilot, Raquel Godinho, Astrid Vik Stronen, Laima Baltrūnaité, Sylwia D. Czarnomska, Jennifer A. Leonard, Ettore Randi, Carsten Nowak, Mikael Åkesson, José Vicente López-Bao, Francisco Álvares, Luis Llaneza, Jorge Echegaray, Carles Vilà, Janis Ozolins, Dainis Rungis, Jouni Aspi, Ladislav Paule, Tomaž Skrbinšek and Urmas Saarma


The grey wolf (Canis lupus) is an iconic large carnivore that has increasingly been recognized as an apex predator with intrinsic value and a keystone species. However, wolves have also long represented a primary source of human–carnivore conflict, which has led to long-term persecution of wolves, resulting in a significant decrease in their numbers, genetic diversity and gene flow between populations. For more effective protection and management of wolf populations in Europe, robust scientific evidence is crucial. This review serves as an analytical summary of the main findings from wolf population genetic studies in Europe, covering major studies from the ‘pre-genomic era’ and the first insights of the ‘genomics era’. We analyse, summarize and discuss findings derived from analyses of three compartments of the mammalian genome with different inheritance modes: maternal (mitochondrial DNA), paternal (Y chromosome) and biparental [autosomal microsatellites and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)]. To describe large-scale trends and patterns of genetic variation in European wolf populations, we conducted a meta-analysis based on the results of previous microsatellite studies and also included new data, covering all 19 European countries for which wolf genetic information is available: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Belarus, Russia, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Spain and Portugal. We compared different indices of genetic diversity in wolf populations and found a significant spatial trend in heterozygosity across Europe from south-west (lowest genetic diversity) to north-east (highest). The range of spatial autocorrelation calculated on the basis of three characteristics of genetic diversity was 650−850 km, suggesting that the genetic diversity of a given wolf population can be influenced by populations up to 850 km away. As an important outcome of this synthesis, we discuss the most pressing issues threatening wolf populations in Europe, highlight important gaps in current knowledge, suggest solutions to overcome these limitations, and provide recommendations for science-based wolf conservation and management at regional and Europe-wide scales.