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Grey wolves (Canis lupus) are one of the few large terrestrial carnivores that maintained a wide geographic distribution across the Northern Hemisphere throughout the Pleistocene and Holocene. Recent genetic studies have suggested that, despite this continuous presence, major demographic changes occurred in wolf populations between the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, and that extant wolves trace their ancestry to a single late Pleistocene population. Both the geographic origin of this ancestral population and how it became widespread remain a mystery. Here we analyzed a large dataset of novel modern and ancient mitochondrial wolf genomes, spanning the last 50,000 years, using a spatially and temporally explicit modeling framework to show that contemporary wolf populations across the globe trace their ancestry to an expansion from Beringia at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum - a process most likely driven by the significant ecological changes that occurred across the Northern Hemisphere during this period. This study provides direct ancient genetic evidence that long-range migration has played an important role in the population history of a large carnivore and provides an insight into how wolves survived the wave of megafaunal extinctions at the end of the last glaciation. Moreover, because late Pleistocene grey wolves were the likely source from which all modern dogs trace their origins, the demographic history described in this study has fundamental implications for understanding the geographical origin of the dog.

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