High genomic diversity in the endangered East Greenland Svalbard Barents Sea stock of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus)

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The East Greenland-Svalbard-Barents Sea (EGSB) bowhead whale stock (Balaena mysticetus) was hunted to near extinction and remains Endangered on the International Union of Conservation of Nature Red List. The intense, temporally extensive hunting pressure may have left the population vulnerable to other perturbations, such as environmental change. However, the lack of genomic baseline data renders it difficult to evaluate the impacts of various potential stressors on this stock. Twelve EGSB bowhead whales sampled in 2017/2018 were re-sequenced and mapped to a previously published draft genome. All individuals were unrelated and void of significant signs of inbreeding, with similar observed and expected homo- and heterozygosity levels. Despite the small population size, mean autosome-wide heterozygosity was 0.00102, which is higher than that of most mammals for which comparable estimates are calculated using the same parameters, and three times higher than a conspecific individual from the Eastern-Canada-West-Greenland bowhead whale stock. Demographic history analyses indicated a continual decrease of Ne from ca. 1.5 million to ca. 250,000 years ago, followed by a slight increase until ca. 100,000 years ago, followed by a rapid decrease in Ne between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago. These estimates are lower than previously suggested based on mitochondrial DNA, but suggested demographic patterns over time are similar.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6118
JournalScientific Reports
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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