Genomic population structure and inbreeding history of Lake Superior caribou
Authors: Kirsten Solmundson, Jeff Bowman, Micheline Manseau, Rebecca Taylor, Sonesinh Keobouasone, Paul Wilson.
Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) have experienced dramatic declines in both range and population size across Canada over the past century. Boreal caribou (R. t. caribou), 1 of the 12 Designatable Units, has lost approximately half of its historic range in the last 150 years, particularly along the southern edge of its distribution. Despite this overall northward contraction, some populations have persisted at the trailing range edge, over 150 km south of the continuous boreal caribou range in Ontario, along the coast and nearshore islands of Lake Superior. The population history of caribou along Lake Superior remains unclear. It appears that these caribou likely represent a remnant distribution at the trailing edge of the receding population of boreal caribou, but they may also exhibit local adaptation to the coastal environment. A better understanding of the population structure and history of caribou along Lake Superior is important for their conservation and management. Here, we use high-coverage whole genomes (N = 20) from boreal, eastern migratory, and barren-ground caribou sampled in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec to investigate population structure and inbreeding histories. We discovered that caribou from the Lake Superior range form a distinct group but also found some evidence of gene flow with the continuous boreal caribou range. Notably, caribou along Lake Superior demonstrated relatively high levels of inbreeding (measured as runs of homozygosity; ROH) and genetic drift, which may contribute to the differentiation observed between ranges. Despite inbreeding, caribou along Lake Superior retained high heterozygosity, particularly in genomic regions without ROH. These results suggest that they present distinct genomic characteristics but also some level of gene flow with the continuous range. Our study provides key insights into the genomics of the southernmost range of caribou in Ontario, beginning to unravel the evolutionary history of these small, isolated caribou populations.
Click here to access the full publication.