Mitogenome evolution in the last surviving woolly mammoth population reveals neutral and functional consequences of small population size.

Pečnerová P, Palkopoulou E, Wheat CW, Skoglund P, Vartanyan S, Tikhonov A, Nikolskiy P, van der Plicht J, Díez-Del-Molino D, Dalén L

Evolution Letters 1 (6) 292-303 [2017-12-00; online 2017-11-28]

The onset of the Holocene was associated with a global temperature increase, which led to a rise in sea levels and isolation of the last surviving population of woolly mammoths on Wrangel Island. Understanding what happened with the population's genetic diversity at the time of the isolation and during the ensuing 6000 years can help clarify the effects of bottlenecks and subsequent limited population sizes in species approaching extinction. Previous genetic studies have highlighted questions about how the Holocene Wrangel population was established and how the isolation event affected genetic diversity. Here, we generated high-quality mitogenomes from 21 radiocarbon-dated woolly mammoths to compare the ancestral large and genetically diverse Late Pleistocene Siberian population and the small Holocene Wrangel population. Our results indicate that mitogenome diversity was reduced to one single haplotype at the time of the isolation, and thus that the Holocene Wrangel Island population was established by a single maternal lineage. Moreover, we show that the ensuing small effective population size coincided with fixation of a nonsynonymous mutation, and a comparative analysis of mutation rates suggests that the evolutionary rate was accelerated in the Holocene population. These results suggest that isolation on Wrangel Island led to an increase in the frequency of deleterious genetic variation, and thus are consistent with the hypothesis that strong genetic drift in small populations leads to purifying selection being less effective in removing deleterious mutations.

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PubMed 30283657

DOI 10.1002/evl3.33

Crossref 10.1002/evl3.33

pii: EVL333
pmc: PMC6121868