Whence Canis familiaris?

The NY Times reports on a new paper calling into question the theory that the dog was first domesticated in East Asia.

The evidence for an East Asian origin of dogs came from a study of mitochondrial DNA, which showed that dog populations in East Asia harbored more diversity than their counterparts in other parts of the world (the reasoning is that more diverse populations are likely to be the origin of a species; populations which split off and move about will be less diverse). The authors of the new paper, however, point out that this study included more semi-wild “village dogs” from East Asia than from other parts of the world, and that these village dogs tend to be more diverse than purebreds from the same part of the world.

When African village dogs are included in the analysis, the East Asian dogs no longer stand out as extremely diverse (see right; the fitted line is what would be expected is diversity were equal in all places). Though this places the East Asian origin hypothesis in serious doubt, for now the authors–having only sampled African dogs (Africa does not have the wolf from which dogs are thought to have been domesticated)–do not present an alternative. As more data is collected from dogs around the world, this state of affairs in unlikely to last.

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