LISTEN TO THE AUDIO VERSION
Of the sub-species of Holarctic wolf, the Woolly wolf (Canis lupus chanco) is uniquely adapted to atmospheric hypoxia and widely distributed across the Himalaya, Qinghai Tibetan Plateau (QTP) and Mongolia. Taxonomic ambiguity still exists for this sub-species because of complex evolutionary history anduse of limited wild samples across its range in Himalaya. We document for the first time population genetic structure and taxonomic affinity of the wolves across western and eastern Himalayan regions from samples collected from the wild (n = 19) using mitochondrial control region (225bp). We found two haplotypes in our data, one widely distributed in the Himalaya that was shared with QTP and the other confined to Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the western Himalaya, India. After combining our data withpublished sequences (n = 83), we observed 15 haplotypes. Some of these were shared among different locations from India to QTP and a few were private to geographic locations. A phylogenetic tree indicated that Woolly wolves from India, Nepal, QTP and Mongolia are basal to other wolves with shallow divergence (K2P; 0.000–0.044) and high bootstrap values. Demographic analyses based on mismatch distribution and Bayesian skyline plots (BSP) suggested a stable population over a long time (~million years) with signs of recent declines. Regional dominance of private haplotypes across its distribution range may indicate allopatric divergence. This may be due to differences in habitat characteristics, availability of different wild prey species and differential deglaciation within the range of the Woolly wolf during historic time. Presence of basal and shallow divergence within-clade along with unique ecological requirements and adaptation to hypoxia, the Woolly wolf of Himalaya, QTP, and Mongolian regions may be considered as a distinct an Evolutionary Significant Unit (ESU). Identifying management units (MUs) is needed within its distribution range using harmonized multiple genetic data for effective conservation planning.