Conservation Genomics: the Role of Functional Genetic Variation in Conservation

Leader: Lukas Keller (EBES), Partners: Andreas Wagner (EBES)

Summary and Scientific Questions

Evolutionary adaptation is essential for endangered species to survive global change, yet the role of functionally important genetic variation in the small, isolated populations typical for endangered species is virtually unknown. This project will address this gap by applying conservation genomics to an ideal study organism, the Alpine ibex (Capra ibex). We will quantify potentially selected genetic variation in ibex populations that experienced recent and severe bottlenecks. Specifically, we will ask whether population size, a crucial determinant of extinction risk, affects functionally relevant genetic variation, a question of central importance to conservation efforts. Using genome outlier scans and other approaches of modern population genomics in more than a dozen ibex populations, we will detect functionally relevant candidate SNPs that are likely to be under selection. Using this data, we will compare signatures of selection in small versus large ibex populations. Specifically, we will test the hypothesis that functionally relevant variation is proportional to neutral genetic variation, and that it is related to population size in a similar way. Finally, we will assess the relationship between genetic polymorphisms and phenotypic change.