Byrne, Allison Q., Richards-Zawacki, Corinne L., Voyles, Jamie, Bi, Ke, Ibanez, Roberto, and Rosenblum, Erica Bree. 2020. "Whole exome sequencing identifies the potential for genetic rescue in iconic and critically endangered Panamanian harlequin frogs." Global Change Biologyhttps://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15405
Avoiding extinction in a rapidly changing environment often relies on a species' ability to quickly adapt in the face of extreme selective pressures. In Panama, two closely related harlequin frog species (Atelopus varius and Atelopus zeteki) are threatened with extinction due to the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Once thought to be nearly extirpated from Panama, A. varius have recently been rediscovered in multiple localities across their historical range; however, A. zeteki are possibly extinct in the wild. By leveraging a unique collection of 186 Atelopus tissue samples collected before and after the Bd outbreak in Panama, we describe the genetics of persistence for these species on the brink of extinction. We sequenced the transcriptome and developed an exome-capture assay to sequence the coding regions of the Atelopus genome. Using these genetic data, we evaluate the population genetic structure of historical A. varius and A. zeteki populations, describe changes in genetic diversity over time, assess the relationship between contemporary and historical individuals, and test the hypothesis that some A. varius populations have rapidly evolved to resist or tolerate Bd infection. We found a significant decrease in genetic diversity in contemporary (compared to historical) A. varius populations. We did not find strong evidence of directional allele frequency change or selection for Bd resistance genes, but we uncovered a set of candidate genes that warrant further study. Additionally, we found preliminary evidence of recent migration and gene flow in one of the largest persisting A. varius populations in Panama, suggesting the potential for genetic rescue in this system. Finally, we propose that previous conservation units should be modified, as clear genetic breaks do not exist beyond the local population level. Our data lay the groundwork for genetically informed conservation and advance our understanding of how imperiled species might be rescued from extinction.