Saturday, September 10, 2005

Distemper and the death of the american dog

I was sure I'd blogged on this years ago, but I can't find anything. Odd. (Update 7/11/13 - it was 11/2004)

The point of this blog is to discuss the possibility that distemper wiped out the native american dog as it's doing in the african dog. First the back-story. This article is a good place to start:
Humans Brought Domesticated Dogs to New World More Than 12,000 Years Ago, UCLA Biologists, Colleagues Report

... these data suggest Native American dogs have not genetically contributed to modern dog breeds,' Wayne said. 'DNA sequences from hundreds of dogs from dozens of modern breeds from throughout the world do not show traces of American ancestry. Native dogs may still have living descendants in some unsampled New World population, but their absence for a large sample of modern dogs reinforces the dramatic impact that the arrival of Europeans had on native cultures.
This UCLA article focuses on research showing early Americans traveled with dogs into the new world over 12K years ago, but it also mentiones that native American dogs died out shortly after the Euro invasion.

Why do the Native dogs disappear? I don't buy the explanation of selective breeding. Dogs ain't picky and I can't believe early American practiced rigorous canine birth control. It had to be the canine equivalent of smallpox -- a disease that was nasty and prevalent in the crowded swamp of industrial europe but was lethal in the healthy empty world of the americas. But what disease?

I'd guess distemper. Recently I read that wild African dogs are now dying of epidemic distemper. Seems to fit. The Euros carried viruses that killed many of the native americans, it's not surprising that their dogs would have done the same thing.

PS. Humans and dogs have coexisted for a long time, it is extremely likely that we have altered each other's evolution (symbiotes and parasites always alter each other's genome). BTW, I thought I'd blogged on my wild speculation that it was the domestication of dogs that allowed humans to develop technology and agriculture (geeks and women can domesticate dogs and use a powerful and loyal ally to defend themselves against thuggish alphas) -- but I can't find that either. Sigh. Aging brain.

Update 7/11/2013: Years after I wrote this I suspected it was wrong. After all, wolves weren't wiped out, and dogs and wolves interbreed. More recent studies show that the pre-Columbian dogs were not completely replaced. Their mortality may resemble that of pre-Columbian humans of the new world. I still wonder about the distemper/measles connection.

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