The earliest Ethiopian wolf: implications for the species evolution and its future survival

Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro, Tegenu Gossa, Francesco Carotenuto, Saverio Bartolini-Lucenti, Paul Palmqvist, Asfawossen Asrat, Borja Figueirido, Lorenzo Rook, Elizabeth M. Niespolo, Paul R. Renne, Gadi Herzlinger, Erella Hovers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 2017, a hemimandible (MW5-B208), corresponding to the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), was found in a stratigraphically-controlled and radio-isotopically-dated sequence of the Melka Wakena paleoanthropological site-complex, on the Southeastern Ethiopian Highlands, ~ 2300 m above sea level. The specimen is the first and unique Pleistocene fossil of this species. Our data provide an unambiguous minimum age of 1.6–1.4 Ma for the species’ presence in Africa and constitutes the first empirical evidence that supports molecular interpretations. Currently, C. simensis is one of the most endangered carnivore species of Africa. Bioclimate niche modeling applied to the time frame indicated by the fossil suggests that the lineage of the Ethiopian wolf faced severe survival challenges in the past, with consecutive drastic geographic range contractions during warmer periods. These models help to describe future scenarios for the survival of the species. Projections ranging from most pessimistic to most optimistic future climatic scenarios indicate significant reduction of the already-deteriorating territories suitable for the Ethiopian Wolf, increasing the threat to the specie’s future survival. Additionally, the recovery of the Melka Wakena fossil underscores the importance of work outside the East African Rift System in research of early human origins and associated biodiversity on the African continent.

Original languageEnglish
Article number530
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 16 May 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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