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Biology LibreTexts

Investigation: Phylogenetic Trees

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  • Part 1: Is a dog more closely related to a coyote or a wolf?  

    wolf 1.png

    Gray Wolf

    Species Name:  Canis lupus

    Color:  Light gray to black

    Size:  80-120 pounds,  2.5 feet tall

    Appearance:  broad snout, round ears, long tail

    wolf 2.png


    Species Name:  Canis latrans

    Color: Light gray to brown

    Size:  20-50 pounds,  1.5 feet tall

    Appearance:  narrow snout, pointed ears, long tail

    wolf 3.png

    Dog, Alaskan Malamute

    Species Name:  Canis lupus familiaris

    Color:  Gray and white  or brown and white

    Size: 70-80 pounds,  2 feet tall

    Appearance:  broad snout, round ears, long tail

    1. Examine the images and descriptions above.  Underline any similarities between the dog and the wolf. Place a star ✭ next to any coyote traits that are similar to the dog. 
    2. Based on appearance alone, which do you think is the most closely related to a dog?  


    Part 2:  Phylogenetic Trees

    Once scientists learned how to sequence DNA, that became a great resource for determining relationships.  A phylogenetic tree shown below is based on DNA evidence and similarities in appearance. 

    wolf 4.png


    3. Branch points are called “nodes” and they indicate a more recent common ancestor from which each branch species has descended from.  

    - Place a box to indicate the node or common ancestor of all the fox species. 

    - Place a triangle   to indicate the  node or common ancestor of all the canis species. 


    4. Which two members of the canis group  have the most recent common ancestor?___________________


    5. A species name has two words, a system called BINOMIAL NOMENCLATURE.  The first word of a species name refers to its GENUS. For example, wolves, coyotes and dogs all belong to the genus “CANIS.”

    What is the genus for the foxes? ________________________________


    6.  In some cases, a third name is given to the animal to indicate a SUBSPECIES.   

    What animal on the chart is a subspecies?  _______________________________________

    What is this animal’s full scientific name?  _______________________________________


    7.  Final Synthesis:   Is a dog more closely related to a coyote or a wolf?  ______________________  Provide EVIDENCE from the phylogenetic tree to support your position.


    8.  Extension:  Is a red wolf or a domestic dog more closely related to a common fox? Use the phylogenetic tree to explain your answer.  


    Follow up video on dog evolution: ~ 5 minutes