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Comparative Social Ecology of Feral Dogs and Wolves

Boitani, L. and Ciucci, P. 1995


In this paper we compare some socio-ecological traits of feral dogs and wolves in order to assess the social ecology of feral dogs in terms of its adaptive value in the natural environment, and to evaluate to what extent the domestication process altered the wolf's socioecological patterns. Referring to feral dogs as those dogs living in a wild state with no food and shelter intentionally provided by humans, and showing a continuous and strong avoidance of direct human contacts, we review the currently available information on feral dog ecology, and particular reference is made to a 3-year term project on feral dog ecology in Abruzzo, Italy. Through comparison of relevant behavioural and ecological features of both wolves and feral dogs, we hypothesize that some aspects of the feral dogs' ecology, having escaped natural selection pressures, represent primarily expression of "evolutionary inertia" or an epiphenomena of artificial selection. Fitness-related measures of sociality, demography, reproduction, space-use, activity patterns, and feeding ecology in feral dogs tend to support our original hypothesis: feral dogs are not reproductively self-sustaining, suffer from high rates of juvenile mortality, depend indirectly upon humans for food, co-optable individuals, and space, and their demography appears dominated by unpredictable mechanisms. However, further research is needed, especially concerning different ecological conditions and multi-generational time-scales, as well as the role that dominant breed-types and cross-breeding history within feral dog groups might play in the expression of the analyzed socio-ecological features.

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