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An evolutionary perspective on contemporary genetic load in threatened species to inform future conservation efforts
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  • Samarth Mathur,
  • John Tomeček,
  • Luis Tarango-Arámbula,
  • Robert Perez,
  • Andrew DeWoody
Samarth Mathur
Purdue University
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John Tomeček
Texas A&M University
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Luis Tarango-Arámbula
Colegio de Postgraduados Campus San Luis Potosi
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Robert Perez
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
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Andrew DeWoody
Purdue University
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Abstract

In theory, genomic erosion can be reduced in fragile “recipient” populations by translocating individuals from genetically diverse “donor” populations. However, recent simulation studies have argued that such translocations can, in principle, serve as a conduit for new deleterious mutations to enter recipient populations. A reduction in evolutionary fitness is associated with a higher load of deleterious mutations and thus, a better understanding of evolutionary processes driving the empirical distribution of deleterious mutations is crucial. Here, we show that genetic load is evolutionarily dynamic in nature and that demographic history greatly influences the distribution of deleterious mutations over time. Our analyses, based on both demographically explicit simulations as well as whole genome sequences of potential donor-recipient pairs of Montezuma Quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae) populations, indicate that all populations tend to lose deleterious mutations during bottlenecks, but that genetic purging is pronounced in smaller populations with stronger bottlenecks. Despite carrying relatively fewer deleterious mutations, we demonstrate how small, isolated populations are more likely to suffer inbreeding depression as deleterious mutations that escape purging are homogenized due to drift, inbreeding, and ineffective purifying selection. We apply a population genomics framework to showcase how the phylogeography and historical demography of a given species can enlighten genetic rescue efforts. Our data suggest that small, inbred populations should benefit the most when assisted gene flow stems from genetically diverse donor populations that have the lowest proportion of deleterious mutations.