Runs of homozygosity in Sable Island feral horses reveal the genomic consequences of inbreeding and divergence from domestic breeds.
Background: Understanding inbreeding and its impact on fitness and evolutionary potential is fundamental to species conservation and agriculture. Long stretches of homozygous genotypes, known as runs of homozygosity (ROH), result from inbreeding and their number and length can provide useful population-level information on inbreeding characteristics and locations of signatures of selection. However, the utility of ROH for conservation is limited for natural populations where baseline data and genomic tools are lacking. Comparing ROH metrics in recently feral vs. domestic populations of well understood species like the horse could provide information on the genetic health of those populations and offer insight into how such metrics compare between managed and unmanaged populations. Here we characterized ROH, inbreeding coefficients, and ROH islands in a feral horse population from Sable Island, Canada, using ~41 000 SNPs and contrasted results with those from 33 domestic breeds to assess the impacts of isolation on ROH abundance, length, distribution, and ROH islands. Results: ROH number, length, and ROH-based inbreeding coefficients (FROH) in Sable Island horses were generally greater than in domestic breeds. Short runs, which typically coalesce many generations prior, were more abundant than long runs in all populations, but run length distributions indicated more recent population bottlenecks in Sable Island horses. Nine ROH islands were detected in Sable Island horses, exhibiting very little overlap with those found in domestic breeds. Gene ontology (GO) enrichment analysis for Sable Island ROH islands revealed enrichment for genes associated with 3 clusters of biological pathways largely associated with metabolism and immune function. Conclusions: This study indicates that Sable Island horses tend to be more inbred than their domestic counterparts and that most of this inbreeding is due to historical bottlenecks and founder effects rather than recent mating between close relatives. Unique ROH islands in the Sable Island population suggest adaptation to local selective pressures and/or strong genetic drift and highlight the value of this population as a reservoir of equine genetic variation. This research illustrates how ROH analyses can be applied to gain insights into the population history, genetic health, and divergence of wild or feral populations of conservation concern.