Dog Evolutionary Tree–More Like a Bush

There’s not a lot written about a dog’s evolution. Trust me. I spent many along hour researching it for a book I’m writing. I wanted earliest man–circa 1 million years ago–to enjoy the comfort and camaraderie we evolved members of the Homo sapiens species enjoy from a dog. But, the best I could find was maybe–maybe–they were around 30,000 years ago.

What did our ancestors do without dogs in their lives? Who made them feel worthwhile when their entire world was ending? Who stayed at their side when no one else would? Who listened to their stuttering first words when they really had nothing of substance to say? As far as I’m concerned, there must have been an early evolution of dogs that archaeologists haven’t discovered yet. I don’t believe man’s compassionate side would be what it is today without the lessons we learn about loyalty, friendship and trust from dogs.
And, it isn’t a big surprise that a dog’s evolution meandered all over the place. With man’s best friend’s propensity for adapting to its owners, it’s no surprise he’s done that since his inception.
Whenever I find an article on the evolution of dogs, I read it, so I’m sharing the following with you:
(For great dog quotes, read this. For my vision of the Pleistocene dog, read this and this.)

Evolution shaped dogs’ faces faster than wolves, coyotes

Dog-skullsx-large Dog’s faces come in more shapes and sizes than the variation across the entire wolf, jackal and coyote family, report biologists, providing an example of extreme evolution.

In the current American Naturalist journal, researchers led by Abby Grace Drake of the United Kingdom’s University of Manchester looked at 106 dog breeds as well as the skulls of other creatures in the canine family.

“The amount of shape variation among domestic dogs far exceeds that in wild species, and it is comparable to the disparity throughout the Carnivora (entire range of carnivore mammals),” says the study. Measuring 50 “landmarks” from the skulls of 677 dogs as well as 122 representatives of the carnivorous mammals, including cats, weasels, bears and seals, the team finds as much diversity in dog skull shapes, particularly for companion breeds, as exists within the entire 42-million-year-old carnivore family.

As far back as Darwin, naturalists have looked at how breeders have selected dogs for specific traits, the study notes, fast-forwarding evolution of new ones. “As a result, domestic dogs have a vast spectrum of cranial variation, which has clear functional consequences, for instance, on bite forces or breathing,” says the study. “These novel skull shapes, as well as the disparity in dog breeds and in wild species, suggest that diversification of dog skull shapes is due, at least in part, to the radical change of the selective regime, as dog breeds were derived from wolves through domestication and the later establishment of modern breeds.”

In the wild, natural selection doesn’t allow the development of carnivores that have trouble breathing or chewing, such as pugs, the authors conclude. Investigating the genetic changes that allow such a wide proliferation of skull shapes to develop would inform both studies of evolution and bone growth, they suggest.

By Dan Vergano
Photo: Dog skulls. (Abby Drake)



3 Responses to “Dog Evolutionary Tree–More Like a Bush”

  1. 1 ashley
    July 18, 2010 at 3:30 am


    • July 18, 2010 at 3:33 am

      I love lab puppies, so this picture seemed perfect for my post. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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Assembling California
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
The Forest People
Geology Underfoot in Southern California
The Land's Wild Music: Encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest William, and James Galvin
My Life with the Chimpanzees
Naked Earth: The New Geophysics
Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness
Sand Rivers
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body
The Tree Where Man Was Born
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