Genetic variation between dog breeds- The Reality of Human Differences

Debunking a racialist myth about the genetic variation between dog breeds

In a previous entry, I made the following comment:

For dogs it’s:

Canus (genus) lupus (species) familiaris (subspecies).

There are 37 subspecies of Canis lupus.

Breeds don’t qualify as subspecies.  The genetic differentiation between dog breeds is tiny (don’t know exact percentage, but it’s much less than between human races).

This is not true.

I’ve heard this bit about limited genetic differentiation in dogs repeated a number of times in racialist circles.  I remember Jared Taylor using it in a debate with Tim Wise.

Steve Sailer wrote:

Dog genome research progress has been fairly slow, partly for economic reasons, but partly, I suspect, because dogs aren’t really that variable, strange as it may seem. Without breeding, dogs in the tropics seem to wind up medium size, short-haired, and yellowish, reddish, or brownish.

My hunch is that genetic diversity in dogs will prove to be narrow but deep, focusing on a small number of genes that vary sharply, whereas genetic diversity among humans will prove broader but shallower than among dogs, involving more genes than among dog breeds, but not as sharply defined. [ed- this last part might be true- there may be fewer SNPs in dogs, but I’m not sure about this.  It is certainly true that indivisual SNPs have much larger phenotypic effects in dogs, which is one reason why a comparison between dog breeds and human races could be considered inappropriate]

The myth seems to originate from the book Race: The Reality of Human Differences, by Frank Miele and Vincent Sarich (which I also read several years ago).  Miele writes:

I (Miele) then raised the question of dog breeds. I’ve liked dogs since I was a kid and am now on my third (the first two bullterriers and now a Great Dane).  I’ve also been to a number of dog shows and even took my first bull terrier to an AKC championship.  In addition, I’ve read widely both in the popular literature on dogs as well as in scientific journals that cover canine behavior genetics.  I pointed out to Vince that there were huge differences between dog breeds, both in morphology and in behavior.  How different were they genetically?  Had the same methodology been applied to sorting out dog breeds as was described for humans in Chapter 5?  With such large morhphological and behavioral differences, shouldn’t there be large DNA differences betwen the breeds? (It is now well known that the morphological and behavioral characteristics that distinguish breeds from one another are genetically bases.) Vince’s surprising answer was that (at that time) not only were there no known DNA differences between the breeds, but these methods couldn’t even distinguish between domestic dogs and wolves.  Although it was possbile to identify individuals with the same microsatellite approach that has been in use for the past two decades, only this year (2003) have researchers been able to distinguish between a few dog breeds by DNA differences.

Miele also repeated parts of this in an online essay published on Vdare in 2008:

Despite minimal genetic differences, human physical racial differences are clearly observable.

Likewise for dogs. But only recently has genetic analysis been able to distinguish between breeds—or even between dogs and wolves.

Vince’s surprising answer, though, was very misleading.  Or Miele misinterpreted what he was told.

In reality, dog breeds are much more genetically diverse than human races, and they can be classified very accurately.

In a 2004 paper in Science, Parker et al. showed that very accurate classification is possible (410 of 414 dogs were correctly assigned to their breed).  They also showed by Analysis of Molecular Variance (AMOVA, a technique often used for estimating genetic variability using microsattelites and repeats, although it can also be used for SNPs) that 27% of genetic variance is between breeds.  Using SNP data, they calculated an Fst distance between the breeds of 0.33.  A recent paper on a genome-wide SNP analysis on 919 dogs from 85 breeds, showed by AMOVA that 65.1% of genetic variance was within breeds, 31.1% between breeds, and 3.8% between breed groups (they defined 10 different groups:  Spaniels, Retrievers, etc.).  They also that as few as 20 diagnostic SNPs can be used to accurately classify dogs into their breeds.

How does the genetic variation in dogs compare to that of humans?  AMOVA analysis of humans shows that approximately 85% of variance is between individuals, 5% is between populations in the same racial group, and 10% is interracial (btw, this number is also close to the updated Fst measurement of Xing et al.).  The average Fst distance between human races is approximately 0.15.

So, we can see that dog breeds are actually much more variable than human races.  The myth of limited genetic diversity prevalent in racialist circles (to which I also fell victim) needs to be dispelled.


Subspecies of Canis lupus

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Subspecies of Gray Wolf
Fossil range: Late Pleistocene – Recent
Skull of a European wolf (above)
Skull of a Canadian wolf (below)
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: C. lupus
Binomial name
Canis lupus
Linnaeus, 1758
Original distribution of wolf subspecies.
Present distribution of wolf subspecies (does not include distribution of domestic dogs).

Canis lupus has 39 subspecies currently described, including two subspecies of domestic dog, Canis lupus dingo and Canis lupus familiaris, and many subspecies of wolf throughout the northern hemisphere. The nominate subspecies is Canis lupus lupus.

Biological taxonomy is not fixed, and placement of taxa is reviewed as a result of new research. The current categorization of subspecies of Canis lupus is shown below. Also included are synonyms, which are now-discarded duplicate or incorrect namings. Common names are given but may vary, as they have no set meaning.



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[edit] List of subspecies

Canis lupus subspecies as of 2005[update][2]
Subspecies↓ Authority↓ Description↓ Range↓ Synonyms↓
Eurasian wolf
Canis lupus lupus (nominate subspecies)Canis lupus lupus qtl1.jpg
Linnaeus 1758 Generally a large subspecies measuring 105–160 cm in length and weighing 40–80 kg. The pelt is usually a mix of rusty ocherous and light grey.[3] Has the largest range among wolf subspecies and is the most common in Europe and Asia, ranging through Western Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, China, Mongolia and the Himalayan Mountains altaicus (Noack, 1911), argunensis (Dybowski, 1922), canus (Sélys Longchamps, 1839), communis (Dwigubski, 1804), deitanus (Cabrera, 1907), desertorum (Bogdanov, 1882), flavus (Kerr, 1792), fulvus (Sélys Longchamps, 1839), italicus (Altobello, 1921), kurjak (Bolkay, 1925), lycaon (Trouessart, 1910), major (Ogérien, 1863), minor (Ogerien, 1863), niger (Hermann, 1804), orientalis (Wagner, 1841), orientalis (Dybowski, 1922), signatus (Cabrera, 1907)[4]
Tundra wolf
Canis lupus albusВолк 3.jpg
Kerr 1792 A large subspecies, with adults measuring 112–137 cm, and weighing 36.6–52 kg. The fur is very long, dense, fluffy and soft and is usually very light and grey in colour. The lower fur is lead-grey and the upper fur is reddish-grey.[3] Northern tundra and forest zones in the European and Asian parts of Russia and Kamchatka. Outside Russia, its range includes the extreme north of Scandinavia[3] dybowskii (Domaniewski, 1926), kamtschaticus (Dybowski, 1922),turuchanensis (Ognev, 1923)[5]
Kenai Peninsula wolf
Canis lupus alces
Goldman 1941 A large wolf measuring over 180 cm in length and weighing 45-63 kg. It is thought that its large size was an adaptation to hunting the extremely large mooses of Kenai[6] Kenai Peninsula
Arabian wolf
Canis lupus ArabsCanis lupus arabic.JPG
Pocock 1934 Southern Israel, Southern and western Iraq, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and probably some parts of the Sinai Peninsula
Arctic wolf
Canis lupus arctosCanis lupus arctos qtl1.jpg
Pocock 1935 Canadian Arctic, Alaska and northern Greenland
Mexican wolf
Canis lupus baileyiMexican Wolf 065.jpg
Nelson and Goldman 1929 A small subspecies which weighs 25–45 kg and measures 140–170 cm in total length (nose to tip of tail), and 72–80 cm in shoulder height. The pelt contains a mix of gray, black, brown, and rust colors in a characteristic pattern, with white underparts[7] Northern Mexico, western Texas, southern New Mexico, and southeastern and central Arizona[7]
Newfoundland wolf
Canis lupus beothucus
G. M. Allen and Barbour 1937 A white coloured subspecies typically measuring 180 cm in length and weighing 45 kg[6] Newfoundland
Bernard’s wolf
Canis lupus bernardi
Anderson 1943 Limited to Banks and Victoria Islands in the arctic banksianus (Anderson, 1943)[8]
Steppe wolf
Canis lupus campestris
Dwigubski 1804 A wolf of average size with short, coarse and sparse fur. The fur is light grey on the sides and rusty, brownish grey on the back[3] Northern Ukraine, southern Kazakhstan, Caucasus and Trans-Caucasus[3] bactrianus (Laptev, 1929), cubanenesis (Ognev, 1923), desertorum (Bogdanov, 1882)[9]
Tibetan wolf
Canis lupus chancoBundesarchiv Bild 135-S-03-20-37, Tibetexpedition, Erlegter Wolf.jpg
Gray 1863 A small subspecies rarely exceeding 45 kg in weight. It is of a light, whitish-grey colour, with an admixture of brownish tones on the upper part of the body[3] Central Asia from Turkestan, Tien Shan throughout Tibet to Mongolia, Northern China, Shensi, Szchewan, Yunnan, the Western Himalayas in Kashmir from Chitral to Lahul.[10] Also occurs in the Korean peninsula[11] coreanus (Abe, 1923), dorogostaiskii (Skalon, 1936), ekloni (Przewalski, 1883), filchneri (Matschie, 1907), karanorensis (Matschie, 1907), laniger (Hodgson, 1847), niger (Sclater, 1874), tschiliensis,(Matschie, 1907)[12]
British Columbia wolf
Canis lupus columbianus
Goldman 1941 Yukon, British Columbia, and Alberta
Vancouver Island wolf
Canis lupus crassodonVIslandWolf.JPG
Hall 1932 Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Canis lupus dingo [domestic dog]Dingo-australian zoo.jpg
Meyer 1793 Generally 52–60 cm tall at the shoulders and measures 117 to 124 cm from nose to tail tip. The average weight is 13 to 20 kg.[13] Fur color is mostly sandy to reddish brown, but can include tan patterns and be occasionally black, light brown, or white[14] Australia, Thailand and New Guinea antarcticus (Kerr, 1792), australasiae (Desmarest, 1820), australiae (Gray, 1826), dingoides (Matschie, 1915), macdonnellensis (Matschie, 1915), novaehollandiae (Voigt, 1831), papuensis (Ramsay, 1879), tenggerana (Kohlbrugge, 1896), harappensis (Prashad, 1936), hallstromi (Troughton, 1957)[15]
Domestic dog
Canis lupus familiarisYellowLabradorLooking new.jpg
Linnaeus 1758 Tends to have a 20% smaller skull and a 30% smaller brain,[16] as well as proportionately smaller teeth than other wolf subspecies[17] The paws of a dog are half the size of those of a wolf, and their tails tend to curl upwards, another trait not found in wolves[18] Worldwide aegyptius (Linnaeus, 1758), alco (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), americanus (Gmelin, 1792), anglicus (Gmelin, 1792), antarcticus (Gmelin, 1792), aprinus (Gmelin, 1792), aquaticus (Linnaeus, 1758), aquatilis (Gmelin, 1792), avicularis (Gmelin, 1792), borealis (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), brevipilis (Gmelin, 1792)cursorius (Gmelin, 1792) domesticus (Linnaeus, 1758) extrarius (Gmelin, 1792), ferus (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), fricator (Gmelin, 1792), fricatrix (Linnaeus, 1758), fuillus (Gmelin, 1792), gallicus (Gmelin, 1792), glaucus (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), graius (Linnaeus, 1758), grajus (Gmelin, 1792), hagenbecki (Krumbiegel, 1950), haitensis (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), hibernicus (Gmelin, 1792), hirsutus (Gmelin, 1792), hybridus (Gmelin, 1792), islandicus (Gmelin, 1792), italicus (Gmelin, 1792), laniarius (Gmelin, 1792), leoninus (Gmelin, 1792), leporarius (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), major (Gmelin, 1792), mastinus (Linnaeus, 1758), melitacus (Gmelin, 1792), melitaeus (Linnaeus, 1758), minor (Gmelin, 1792), molossus (Gmelin, 1792), mustelinus (Linnaeus, 1758), obesus (Gmelin, 1792), orientalis (Gmelin, 1792), pacificus (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), plancus (Gmelin, 1792), pomeranus (Gmelin, 1792), sagaces (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), sanguinarius (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), sagax (Linnaeus, 1758), scoticus (Gmelin, 1792), sibiricus (Gmelin, 1792), suillus (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), terraenovae (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), terrarius (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), turcicus (Gmelin, 1792), urcani (C. E. H. Smith, 1839), variegatus (Gmelin, 1792), venaticus (Gmelin, 1792), vertegus (Gmelin, 1792)[19]
Florida Black wolf
Canis lupus floridanus
Miller 1912
Cascade Mountain wolf
Canis lupus fuscus
Richardson 1839 A cinnamon coloured wolf measuring 165 cm and weighing 36-49 kg[6] Cascade Range
Gregory’s wolf
Canis lupus gregoryi
Goldman 1937 gigas (Townsend, 1850)[20]
Manitoba wolf
Canis lupus griseoalbus
Baird 1858 North Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba knightii (Anderson, 1945)[21]
Hokkaidō wolf
Canis lupus hattaiエゾオオカミ剥製・開拓記念館19840914.jpg
Kishida 1931 Hokkaidō rex (Pocock, 1935)[22]
Honshū wolf
Canis lupus hodophilaxHonshu-wolf4.jpg
Temminck 1839 Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū hodopylax (Temminck, 1844), japonicus (Nehring, 1885)[23]
Hudson Bay wolf
Canis lupus hudsonicus
Goldman 1941 Northern Manitoba and the Northwest Territories
Northern Rocky Mountains wolf
Canis lupus irremotus
Goldman 1937 Northern Rocky Mountains
Labrador wolf
Canis lupus labradorius
Goldman 1937 Labrador and northern Quebec
Alexander Archipelago wolf
Canis lupus ligoni
Goldman 1937 Alexander Archipelago
Eastern wolf
Canis lupus lycaonCanis lupus lycaon qtl4.jpg
Schreber 1775 Mainly occupies the area in and around Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, and also ventures into adjacent parts of Quebec, Canada. It also may be present in Minnesota and Manitoba canadensis (de Blainville, 1843), ungavensis (Comeau, 1940)[24]
Mackenzie River wolf
Canis lupus mackenzii
Anderson 1943 Northwest Territories
Baffin Island wolf
Canis lupus manningi
Anderson 1943 Baffin Island
Mogollon Mountain wolf
Canis lupus mogollonensis
Goldman 1937 A dark coloured wolf measuring 135-150 cm in length, and weighing 27-36 kg[6] Arizona and New Mexico
Texas wolf
Canis lupus monstrabilis
Goldman 1937 Similar in size and colour to C. lupus mogollonensis[6] Texas and New Mexico niger (Bartram, 1791)[25]
Buffalo wolf
Canis lupus nubilus
Say 1823 Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Single wolves have been reported in the Dakotas and as far south as Nebraska variabilis (Wied-Neuwied, 1841)[26]
Rocky Mountain wolf
Canis lupus occidentalisLobo en el Zoo de Madrid 01 cropped.jpg
Richardson 1829 Western Canada sticte (Richardson, 1829), ater (Richardson, 1829)[27]
Canis lupus orion Pocock 1935 Greenland
Indian wolf
Canis lupus pallipesPallipes.JPG
Sykes 1831 A small wolf with pelage shorter than that of northern wolves, and with little to no underfur.[28] Fur colour ranges from greyish red to reddish white with black tips. The dark V shaped stripe over the shoulders is much more pronounced than in northern wolves. The underparts and legs are more or less white.[29] Western India, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and southern Israel
Canis lupus pambasileus Elliot 1905 Alaska and the Yukon
Red wolf
Canis lupus rufus07-03-23RedWolfAlbanyGAChehaw.jpg
Audubon and Bachman 1851 Has a brownish or cinnamon pelt, with grey and black shading on the back and tail. Generally intermediate in size between other American wolf subspecies and coyotes. Like other wolves, it has almond-shaped eyes, a broad muzzle and a wide nosepad, though like the coyote, its ears are proportionately larger. It has a deeper profile, a longer and broader head than the coyote, and has a less prominent ruff than wolves[30] Eastern North Carolina[31]
Alaskan tundra wolf
Canis lupus tundrarum
Miller 1912 Has heavier dentition than pambasileus
Canis lupus youngi Goldman 1937 Southern Rocky Mountains

[edit] Disputed subspecies and species

Italian (Appennine) Wolf from the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise

Iberian Wolves

Two subspecies not mentioned in the list above are the Italian Wolf (Canis lupus italicus) and the Iberian Wolf (Canis lupus signatus). The wolves of the Italian and Iberian peninsulas have morphologically distinct features from other European wolves and each are considered by researchers to represent their own subspecies.[32][33][34]

The genetic distinction of the Italian wolf subspecies was recently supported by analysis which consistently assigned all the wolf genotypes of a sample in Italy to a single group. This population also showed a unique mitochondrial DNA control-region haplotype, the absence of private alleles and lower heterozygosity at microsatellite loci, as compared to other wolf populations.[35]

In addition, recent genetic research suggests that the Indian Wolf populations in the Indian subcontinent may represent a distinct species from their conspecifics. Similar results were obtained for the Himalayan wolf, which is traditionally placed into the Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus laniger) .[36]

[edit] Geographical variations

Wolves show a great deal of dimorphism geographically, though they can interbreed. The Zoological Gardens of London for example once successfully managed to mate a male European wolf to an Indian female, resulting in a cub bearing an almost exact likeness to its sire.[37]

[edit] Europe

European wolves tend to have long, more highly placed ears, narrow heads, slender loins and coarse fur.[38] Pelt colour in European wolves ranges from white, cream, red, grey and black, sometimes with all colors combined. Wolves in central Europe tend to be more richly coloured than those in Northern Europe.[39] Eastern European wolves tend to be shorter and more heavily built than Northern Russian ones.[39]

[edit] North America

North American wolves are, overall, generally the same size as European breeds, but have larger, rounder heads, broader, more obtuse muzzles, shorter legs, have more luxuriant fur and are usually more robust. They typically lack the black mark on the forelegs, as is the case in European races.[40] Fur colour in American wolves ranges from white, black, red, yellow, brown, gray, and grizzled skins, and others representing every shade between, although usually each locality has its prevailing tint. There are pronounced differences in North American wolves of different localities; wolves from Texas and New Mexico are comparatively slim animals with small teeth.[41] Mexican wolves in particular resemble some European wolves in stature, though their heads are usually broader, their necks thicker, their ears longer and their tails shorter.[42] Wolves of the central and northern chains of the Rocky Mountains and coastal ranges are more formidable animals than the more southern plains wolves, and resemble Russian and Scandinavian wolves in size and proportions.[41]

7 thoughts on “Genetic variation between dog breeds- The Reality of Human Differences

  1. Fixation Index between humans (based on SNPs)
    Greeks and Italians 0.0001
    Greeks and Germans 0.0039
    Greeks and Russians 0.0108
    Africans and Europeans 0.153
    Africans and Chinese 0.192
    Chinese and Europeans 0.111

    For dogs it’s maybe 0.33 on average. I would consider this of the same order of magnitude as the differences between human races (10x – 1000x greater than Fst between members of the same race) although obviously the difference between a Dachshund and a husky is more than between an Irishman and an African.

    I think race is a valid concept personally. Not only is there significant variation, but the differences are often in way that have great importance in medicine and also in social sciences.

    I find the argument of “more variation within than between” to be arbitrary and probably political in motive. Nobody in geology argues that there is more variation within than between rock types.

    I do think that race needs to be properly defined, though. If we get over our fear of being politically incorrect we could have a really interesting debate to that effect.

    Anyway, interesting blog post. I happened across a lot of the information you presented in a book called Population Genetics by M Hamilton. It’s a good read, you might like it!

  2. No one dares state that we are different species entirely, not subspecies.
    What animal has a subspecies with a completely different TYPE of hair?
    Different standard values on blood test values? The differences go to the BONE.
    The Out Of Africa theory is supported strongly for political reasons and not that of evidence to support it. Multiregional Theory of Human Evolution is a much better fit to the data we have than the OOA theory.

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