Introgression and disruption of migration routes have shaped the genetic integrity of wildebeest populations

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The blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) is a keystone species in savanna ecosystems from southern to eastern Africa, and is well known for its spectacular migrations and locally extreme abundance. In contrast, the black wildebeest (C. gnou) is endemic to southern Africa, barely escaped extinction in the 1900s and is feared to be in danger of genetic swamping from the blue wildebeest. Despite the ecological importance of the wildebeest, there is a lack of understanding of how its unique migratory ecology has affected its gene flow, genetic structure and phylogeography. Here, we analyze whole genomes from 121 blue and 22 black wildebeest across the genus’ range. We find discrete genetic structure consistent with the morphologically defined subspecies. Unexpectedly, our analyses reveal no signs of recent interspecific admixture, but rather a late Pleistocene introgression of black wildebeest into the southern blue wildebeest populations. Finally, we find that migratory blue wildebeest populations exhibit a combination of long-range panmixia, higher genetic diversity and lower inbreeding levels compared to neighboring populations whose migration has recently been disrupted. These findings provide crucial insights into the evolutionary history of the wildebeest, and tangible genetic evidence for the negative effects of anthropogenic activities on highly migratory ungulates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2921
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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