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Genomic signatures of inbreeding and genetic load in a threatened rattlesnake
  • Alexander Ochoa,
  • H. Lisle Gibbs
Alexander Ochoa
University of Central Florida
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H. Lisle Gibbs
Ohio State University
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Theory predicts that threatened species living in small populations will experience high levels of inbreeding that will increase their negative genetic load but recent work suggests that the impact of load may be minimized by purging resulting from long term population bottlenecks. Empirical studies that examine this idea using genome-wide estimates of inbreeding and genetic load in threatened species are limited. Here we use genome resequencing data to compare levels of inbreeding, levels of genetic load and population history in threatened Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus) which exist in small isolated populations and closely-related yet outbred Western massasauga rattlesnakes (S. tergeminus). In terms of inbreeding, S. catenatus genomes had a greater number of ROHs of varying sizes indicating sustained inbreeding through repeated bottlenecks when compared to S. tergeminus. At the species level, outbred S. tergeminus had higher genome-wide levels of genetic load in the form of greater numbers of derived deleterious mutations compared to S. catenatus presumably due to long-term purging of deleterious mutations in S. catenatus. In contrast, mutations that escaped the “drift sieve” and were polymorphic within S. catenatus populations were more abundant and more often found in homozygote genotypes than in S. tergeminus suggesting a reduced efficiency of purifying selection in smaller S. catenatus populations. Our results support an emerging idea that the historical demography of a threatened species has a significant impact on the type of genetic load present which impacts implementation of conservation actions such as genetic rescue.

Peer review status:UNDER REVIEW

23 Apr 2021Submitted to Molecular Ecology
28 Apr 2021Assigned to Editor
28 Apr 2021Submission Checks Completed
15 May 2021Reviewer(s) Assigned
07 Jun 2021Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending