Genomic consequences of intensive inbreeding in an isolated wolf population

  • Nature Ecology & Evolutionvolume 2pages124131 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0375-4
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Inbreeding (mating between relatives) is a major concern for conservation as it decreases individual fitness and can increase the risk of population extinction. We used whole-genome resequencing of 97 grey wolves (Canis lupus) from the highly inbred Scandinavian wolf population to identify ‘identical-by-descent’ (IBD) chromosome segments as runs of homozygosity (ROH). This gave the high resolution required to precisely measure realized inbreeding as the IBD fraction of the genome in ROH (FROH). We found a striking pattern of complete or near-complete homozygosity of entire chromosomes in many individuals. The majority of individual inbreeding was due to long IBD segments (>5 cM) originating from ancestors ≤10 generations ago, with 10 genomic regions showing very few ROH and forming candidate regions for containing loci contributing strongly to inbreeding depression. Inbreeding estimated with an extensive pedigree (FP) was strongly correlated with realized inbreeding measured with the entire genome (r2 = 0.86). However, inbreeding measured with the whole genome was more strongly correlated with multi-locus heterozygosity estimated with as few as 500 single nucleotide polymorphisms, and with FROH estimated with as few as 10,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms, than with FP. These results document in fine detail the genomic consequences of intensive inbreeding in a population of conservation concern.

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Financial support was obtained from the Swedish Research Council, Swedish Research Council Formas, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Research Council of Norway, Norwegian Environment Agency and Marie-Claire Cronstedts Foundation. We thank the National Veterinary Institute (Sweden), Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Swedish Museum of Natural History, County Administrative Boards in Sweden, Wildlife Damage Centre at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences for contributing with samples. The preparation of samples was conducted by A. Danielsson and E. Hedmark at Grimsö Wildlife Research Station at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Bioinformatic computations were performed on resources provided by the Swedish National Infrastructure for Computing through the Uppsala Multidisciplinary Center for Advanced Computational Science.

Author information


  1. Department of Evolutionary Biology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, SE-752 36, Uppsala, Sweden

    • Marty Kardos
    • , Toby Fountain
    •  & Hans Ellegren
  2. Flathead Lake Biological Station, University of Montana, Polson, MA, 59860, USA

    • Marty Kardos
  3. Department of Ecology, Grimsö Wildlife Research Station, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE-730 91, Riddarhyttan, Sweden

    • Mikael Åkesson
    • , Olof Liberg
    • , Håkan Sand
    •  & Camilla Wikenros
  4. Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, PO Box 5685, Sluppen, NO-7485, Trondheim, Norway

    • Øystein Flagstad
  5. Wallenberg Advanced Bioinformatics Infrastructure, Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University, 75123, Uppsala, Sweden

    • Pall Olason
  6. Faculty of Applied Ecology and Agricultural Sciences, Campus Evenstad, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, NO-2480, Elverum, Norway

    • Petter Wabakken


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H.E. conceived the project. M.K., M.Å., Ø.F., H.S., C.W. and H.E. initiated the project. H.E., M.K. and M.Å. designed the project. M.K. and T.F. performed the data analysis. O.L. performed the original reconstruction of the pedigree. O.L., M.Å. and Ø.F. maintained, updated and refined the pedigree. M.Å. performed the calculations of FP. O.L., H.S., P.W. and C.W. coordinated the field work and sampling. P.O. performed the variant calling. The first draft of the paper was written by M.K. with input from H.E. and T.F. All authors contributed to discussing the results and editing the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hans Ellegren.

Electronic supplementary material

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary tables and figures.

  2. Life Sciences Reporting Summary

  3. Supplementary Data

    Detailed plots of heterozygosity and identified ROH are provided for each chromosome in each of the individuals sampled.