Pathogens are recognized as major drivers of local adaptation in wildlife systems. By determining which gene variants are favored in local interactions among populations with and without disease, spatially explicit adaptive responses to pathogens can be elucidated. Much of our current understanding of host responses to disease comes from a small number of genes associated with an immune response. High-throughput sequencing (HTS) technologies, such as genotype-by-sequencing (GBS), facilitate expanded explorations of genomic variation among populations. Hybridization-based GBS techniques can be leveraged in systems not well characterized for specific variants associated with disease outcome to "capture" specific genes and regulatory regions known to influence expression and disease outcome. We developed a multiplexed, sequence capture assay for red foxes to simultaneously assess ~300-kbp of genomic sequence from 116 adaptive, intrinsic, and innate immunity genes of predicted adaptive significance and their putative upstream regulatory regions along with 23 neutral microsatellite regions to control for demographic effects. The assay was applied to 45 fox DNA samples from Alaska, where three arctic rabies strains are geographically restricted and endemic to coastal tundra regions, yet absent from the boreal interior. The assay provided 61.5% on-target enrichment with relatively even sequence coverage across all targeted loci and samples (mean = 50×), which allowed us to elucidate genetic variation across introns, exons, and potential regulatory regions (4,819 SNPs). Challenges remained in accurately describing microsatellite variation using this technique; however, longer-read HTS technologies should overcome these issues. We used these data to conduct preliminary analyses and detected genetic structure in a subset of red fox immune-related genes between regions with and without endemic arctic rabies. This assay provides a template to assess immunogenetic variation in wildlife disease systems.
The Canadian Arctic is an extreme environment with low floral and faunal diversity characterized by major seasonal shifts in temperature, moisture, and daylight. Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) are one of few large herbivores able to survive this harsh environment. Microbiome research of the gastrointestinal tract may hold clues as to how muskoxen exist in the Arctic, but also how this species may respond to rapid environmental changes. In this study, we investigated the effects of season (spring/summer/winter), year (2007-2016), and host genetic structure on population-level microbiome variation in muskoxen from the Canadian Arctic. We utilized 16S rRNA gene sequencing to characterize the fecal microbial communities of 78 male muskoxen encompassing two population genetic clusters. These clusters are defined by Arctic Mainland and Island populations, including the following: (a) two mainland sampling locations of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut and (b) four locations of Victoria Island. Between these geographic populations, we found that differences in the microbiome reflected host-associated genetic cluster with evidence of migration. Within populations, seasonality influenced bacterial diversity with no significant differences between years of sampling. We found evidence of pathogenic bacteria, with significantly higher presence in mainland samples. Our findings demonstrate the effects of seasonality and the role of host population-level structure in driving fecal microbiome differences in a large Arctic mammal.
Populations are exposed to different types and strains of pathogens across heterogeneous landscapes, where local interactions between host and pathogen may present reciprocal selective forces leading to correlated patterns of spatial genetic structure. Understanding these coevolutionary patterns provides insight into mechanisms of disease spread and maintenance. Arctic rabies (AR) is a lethal disease with viral variants that occupy distinct geographic distributions across North America and Europe. Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) are a highly susceptible AR host, whose range overlaps both geographically distinct AR strains and regions where AR is absent. It is unclear if genetic structure exists among red fox populations relative to the presence/absence of AR or the spatial distribution of AR variants. Acquiring these data may enhance our understanding of the role of red fox in AR maintenance/spread and inform disease control strategies. Using a genotyping-by-sequencing assay targeting 116 genomic regions of immunogenetic relevance, we screened for sequence variation among red fox populations from Alaska and an outgroup from Ontario, including areas with different AR variants, and regions where the disease was absent. Presumed neutral SNP data from the assay found negligible levels of neutral genetic structure among Alaskan populations. The immunogenetically-associated data identified 30 outlier SNPs supporting weak to moderate genetic structure between regions with and without AR in Alaska. The outliers included SNPs with the potential to cause missense mutations within several toll-like receptor genes that have been associated with AR outcome. In contrast, there was a lack of genetic structure between regions with different AR variants. Combined, we interpret these data to suggest red fox populations respond differently to the presence of AR, but not AR variants. This research increases our understanding of AR dynamics in the Arctic, where host/disease patterns are undergoing flux in a rapidly changing Arctic landscape, including the continued northward expansion of red fox into regions previously predominated by the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus).