According to a study, a golden jackal was first sighted in subarctic Russia, far from the species’ normal home.
The golden jackal (golden canislisten)) is a wolf-like species in the family Canidae, which includes domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, and coyotes, among other animals.
The species is native to Eastern Europe, Southwest Asia, South Asia, and parts of Southeast Asia. But the range of the golden jackal in Eurasia has undergone significant changes in recent decades, as the animal has moved into new territories.
The current distribution of the species in Russia, for example, is much more extensive than it was in the 20th century, when it was generally only found in a relatively narrow strip along the northeast coast. from the Black Sea, on the west coast of the Caspian Sea. Sea to the city of Makhachkala and along some river valleys west of the Caspian Sea, according to the article published in the journal Polar biology.
Today, the golden jackal is found in almost the entire North Caucasus region, located in southwestern Russia, from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Azov, and continues to spread to some areas further south. north.
Prior to the latest survey, individual golden jackals had been spotted much further north of the species’ historic range. For example, an adult male jackal was shot in the Leningrad region of Russia in 2007, while an adult female was killed in the Moscow region in 2016.
It is possible that the jackal that appeared in the Leningrad region in 2007 arrived from the neighboring Baltic state of Estonia to the west, where breeding pairs have been observed, although the first encounter of golden jackal in this country n was reported only in 2013.
Outside of Russia, the distribution of the golden jackal in mainland Europe has also changed significantly, with the species appearing in places where it had never been seen before.
“Even more amazing is how jackals are invading new parts of Europe. Now they’ve reached Finland and Norway,” said Konstantin Tirronen, study author from the Institute of Biology of Karelian Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Newsweek.
“But the regions of northern Europe are impossible to compare with those of Russia. [They are] absolutely different domains” with regard to human activities, the transformation of landscapes and the structures of ecosystems.
As for the jackal that is the subject of the latest study, a male of the species was legally trapped in the Arkhangelsk region in northern Russia, on the outskirts of the village of Tsimola, on February 24, 2021.
The trap had been deployed by a hunter in order to catch wolves visiting the site of a local breeding farm.
When the paper was sent for publication last year, it was the first time the golden jackal had been recorded in the Russian subarctic. The village of Tsimola lies even further north than the previous sighting in the Leningrad region, which occurred about 800 km to the southwest.
According to the authors of the study, the region around Tsimola is agriculturally undeveloped, and well beyond the normal range of the species, not to say very different from its usual environment. But where could this jackal come from?
Genetic testing by the researchers on the jackal specimen revealed close associations with populations in Europe and the Caucasus, located to the southwest and south, respectively.
But Tirronen said Newsweek that it is not yet possible to answer the question of which population this particular jackal belonged to.
If the jackal came from the nearest herding groups, located in Estonia, the animal might have traveled more than 600 miles, Tirronen said. If it came from the Caucasus, it would have potentially traveled over 1,100 miles.
Moreover, Tirronen said: “It is not at all necessary that this individual has come all this way. [by itself.] It may well be that they got there after a generation.”
“In my opinion, this brave individual came from the west, but I can’t say for sure,” he said, noting that more research would be needed to learn more about the origins of the jackal.
The authors pose the question of how a relatively small carnivore like this could survive the harsh winter in this sparsely populated region of northern Russia.
“Deep snows, extreme cold and large forest stands were considered factors limiting the spread of the jackal population northward,” the authors write in the study.
In December, snow depth was nearly 8 inches and by March it had reached more than 24 inches, making travel difficult for many animals, the authors said. Additionally, average monthly temperatures in December, January, and February were below the long-term monthly average, reaching around 15, 2, and -5 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.
According to the authors, one of the reasons the jackal was able to survive is the presence of the small cattle farm operating in the area.
The reason jackals are found increasingly north, in places like the Russian Subarctic and Norway, is primarily the result of species expansion — when animals outgrow their historical distribution — the authors said. Global climate change and human transformation of ecosystems may play a role in this process.
But given Russia’s extreme subarctic climate and low level of animal husbandry or agriculture, the authors conclude that the golden jackal is unlikely to establish breeding populations in areas like the Arkhangelsk region.