Conservation genomics of Scandinavian wolves

The Scandinavian wolf population is a striking example of the impact of isolation on genetic diversity and survival. Wolves were once extinct in Scandinavia, but in the early 1980s two individuals re-entered the peninsula and successfully reproduced. Cut off from the larger Finnish-Russian metapopulation by the Reindeer husbandry area to the North, the population remained very small (less than 10 individuals) for a decade. However, in 1991 a single male immigrant entered the population and reproduced, resulting in genetic rescue through an increase in both genetic diversity and population size. To this day the population remains characterized by prolonged periods of isolation with rare immigration events.

We are investigating the genomic consequences this isolation. In collaboration with researchers at Grimsö Wildlife Station and SKANDULV, who have been responsible for the long-term monitoring of these wolves, we are using genomic information, alongside pedigree and life-history information, to look at changes in genetic diversity over the lifetime of the population. Specifically, we are measuring the frequency and length of runs of homozygosity, distinctive genomic deserts devoid of genetic variation, that are signatures of inbreeding. In addition, we are applying statistical methods to reconstruct the original founders of the population, to estimate how much of their original genetic contribution persists within the population today.
In combination, these approaches promise not only to provide a better understanding of the genomic consequences of population isolation, but also give vital information for the long-term management of this population of conservation concern.

Banner photograph by MrT HK: available under creative commons license.