Population genomics of the muskox' resilience in the near absence of genetic variation

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

  • Edana Lord
  • Tom van der Valk
  • Christian Carøe
  • Fredrik Dalerum
  • Anders Götherström
  • Johannes Måsviken
  • Sergey Vartanyan
  • Katrine Raundrup
  • Christina Hvilsom
  • Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen
  • Peter Aastrup
  • Peter J. Van Coeverden de Groot
  • Niels Martin Schmidt
  • Love Dalén

Genomic studies of species threatened by extinction are providing crucial information about evolutionary mechanisms and genetic consequences of population declines and bottlenecks. However, to understand how species avoid the extinction vortex, insights can be drawn by studying species that thrive despite past declines. Here, we studied the population genomics of the muskox (Ovibos moschatus), an Ice Age relict that was at the brink of extinction for thousands of years at the end of the Pleistocene yet appears to be thriving today. We analysed 108 whole genomes, including present-day individuals representing the current native range of both muskox subspecies, the white-faced and the barren-ground muskox (O. moschatus wardi and O. moschatus moschatus) and a ~21,000-year-old ancient individual from Siberia. We found that the muskox' demographic history was profoundly shaped by past climate changes and post-glacial re-colonizations. In particular, the white-faced muskox has the lowest genome-wide heterozygosity recorded in an ungulate. Yet, there is no evidence of inbreeding depression in native muskox populations. We hypothesize that this can be explained by the effect of long-term gradual population declines that allowed for purging of strongly deleterious mutations. This study provides insights into how species with a history of population bottlenecks, small population sizes and low genetic diversity survive against all odds.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number2
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

    Research areas

  • ancient DNA, genetic diversity, genetic load, inbreeding, muskox, population genomics

ID: 374402853