van der Valk T, Díez-Del-Molino D, Marques-Bonet T, Guschanski K, Dalén L
Curr. Biol. 29 (1) 165-170.e6 [2019-01-07; online 2018-12-27]
Many endangered species have experienced severe population declines within the last centuries [1, 2]. However, despite concerns about negative fitness effects resulting from increased genetic drift and inbreeding, there is a lack of empirical data on genomic changes in conjunction with such declines [3-7]. Here, we use whole genomes recovered from century-old historical museum specimens to quantify the genomic consequences of small population size in the critically endangered Grauer's and endangered mountain gorillas. We find a reduction of genetic diversity and increase in inbreeding and genetic load in the Grauer's gorilla, which experienced severe population declines in recent decades. In contrast, the small but relatively stable mountain gorilla population has experienced little genomic change during the last century. These results suggest that species histories as well as the rate of demographic change may influence how population declines affect genome diversity.