Landscape limits gene flow and drives population structure in Agassiz's desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii).
ABSTRACT: Distance, environmental heterogeneity and local adaptation can strongly influence population structure and connectivity. Understanding how these factors shape the genomic landscape of threatened species is a major goal in conservation genomics and wildlife management. Herein, we use thousands (6,859) of single nucleotide polymorphism markers and spatial data from hundreds of individuals (n?=?646) to re-evaluate the population structure of Agassiz's desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Analyses resolve from 4 to 8 spatially well-defined clusters across the range. Western, central, and southern populations within the Western Mojave recovery unit are consistent throughout, while analyses sometimes merge other recovery units depending on the level of clustering. Causal modeling consistently associates genetic connectivity with least-cost distance, based on multiple landscape features associated with tortoise habitat, better than geographic distance. Some features include elevation, soil depth, rock volume, precipitation, and vegetation coverage, suggesting that physical, climatic, and biotic landscape features have played a strong evolutionary role restricting gene flow between populations. Further, 12 highly differentiated outlier loci have associated functions that may be involved with neurogenesis, wound healing, lipid metabolism, and possibly vitellogenesis. Together, these findings have important implications for recovery programs, such as translocations, population augmentation, reproduction in captivity and the identification of ecologically important genes, opening new venues for conservation genomics in desert tortoises.
Project description:Desert tortoises (Testudines; Testudinidae; Gopherus agassizii group) have an extensive distribution throughout the Mojave, Colorado, and Sonoran desert regions. Not surprisingly, they exhibit a tremendous amount of ecological, behavioral, morphological and genetic variation. Gopherus agassizii was considered a single species for almost 150 years but recently the species was split into the nominate form and Morafka's desert tortoise, Gopherus morafkai, the latter occurring south and east of the Colorado River. Whereas a large body of literature focuses on tortoises in the United States, a dearth of investigations exists for Mexican animals. Notwithstanding, Mexican populations of desert tortoises in the southern part of the range of Gopherus morafkai are distinct, particularly where the tortoises occur in tropical thornscrub and tropical deciduous forest. Recent studies have shed light on the ecology, morphology and genetics of these southern 'desert' tortoises. All evidence warrants recognition of this clade as a distinctive taxon and herein we describe it as Gopherus evgoodei sp. n. The description of the new species significantly reduces and limits the distribution of Gopherus morafkai to desertscrub habitat only. By contrast, Gopherus evgoodei sp. n. occurs in thornscrub and tropical deciduous forests only and this leaves it with the smallest range of the three sister species. We present conservation implications for the newly described Gopherus evgoodei, which already faces impending threats.
Project description:We investigate a cornucopia of problems associated with the identity of the desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii (Cooper). The date of publication is found to be 1861, rather than 1863. Only one of the three original cotypes exists, and it is designated as the lectotype of the species. Another cotype is found to have been destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire. The third is lost. The lectotype is genetically confirmed to be from California, and not Arizona, USA as sometimes reported. Maternally, the holotype of Gopherus lepidocephalus (Ottley & Velázques Solis. 1989) from the Cape Region of Baja California Sur, Mexico is also from the Mojavian population of the desert tortoise, and not from Tiburon Island, Sonora, Mexico as previously proposed. A suite of characters serve to diagnose tortoises west and north of the Colorado River, the Mojavian population, from those east and south of the river in Arizona, USA, and Sonora and Sinaloa, Mexico, the Sonoran population. Species recognition is warranted and because Gopherus lepidocephalus is from the Mojavian population, no names are available for the Sonoran species. Thus, a new species, Gopherus morafkaisp. n., is named and this action reduces the distribution of Gopherus agassizii to only 30% of its former range. This reduction has important implications for the conservation and protection of Gopherus agassizii, which may deserve a higher level of protection.
Project description:<i>Mycoplasma agassizii</i> is one of the known causative agents of upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) in Mojave desert tortoises (<i>Gopherus agassizii</i>) and in gopher tortoises (<i>Gopherus polyphemus</i>). We sequenced the genomes of <i>M. agassizii</i> strains PS6<sup>T</sup> (ATCC 700616) and 723 (ATCC 700617) isolated from the upper respiratory tract of a Mojave desert tortoise and a gopher tortoise, respectively, both with signs of URTD. The PS6<sup>T</sup> genome assembly was organized in eight scaffolds, had a total length of 1,274,972 bp, a G + C content of 28.43%, and contained 979 protein-coding genes, 13 pseudogenes and 35 RNA genes. The 723 genome assembly was organized in 40 scaffolds, had a total length of 1,211,209 bp, a G + C content of 28.34%, and contained 955 protein-coding genes, seven pseudogenes, and 35 RNA genes. Both genomes exhibit a very similar organization and very similar numbers of genes in each functional category. Pairs of orthologous genes encode proteins that are 93.57% identical on average. Homology searches identified a putative cytadhesin. These genomes will enable studies that will help understand the molecular bases of pathogenicity of this and other <i>Mycoplasma</i> species.
Project description:The immune system of ectotherms, particularly non-avian reptiles, remains poorly characterized regarding the genes involved in immune function, and their function in wild populations. We used RNA-Seq to explore the systemic response of Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) gene expression to three levels of Mycoplasma infection to better understand the host response to this bacterial pathogen. We found over an order of magnitude more genes differentially expressed between male and female tortoises (1,037 genes) than differentially expressed among immune groups (40 genes). There were 8 genes differentially expressed among both variables that can be considered sex-biased immune genes in this tortoise. Among experimental immune groups we find enriched GO biological processes for cysteine catabolism, regulation of type 1 interferon production, and regulation of cytokine production involved in immune response. Sex-biased transcription involves iron ion transport, iron ion homeostasis, and regulation of interferon-beta production to be enriched. More detailed work is needed to assess the seasonal response of the candidate genes found here. How seasonal fluctuation of testosterone and corticosterone modulate the immunosuppression of males and their susceptibility to Mycoplasma infection also warrants further investigation, as well as the importance of iron in the immune function and sex-biased differences of this species. Finally, future transcriptional studies should avoid drawing blood from tortoises via subcarapacial venipuncture as the variable aspiration of lymphatic fluid will confound the differential expression of genes.
Project description:Agassiz's desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is a long-lived species native to the Mojave Desert and is listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. To aid conservation efforts for preserving the genetic diversity of this species, we generated a whole genome reference sequence with an annotation based on deep transcriptome sequences of adult skeletal muscle, lung, brain, and blood. The draft genome assembly for G. agassizii has a scaffold N50 length of 252 kbp and a total length of 2.4 Gbp. Genome annotation reveals 20,172 protein-coding genes in the G. agassizii assembly, and that gene structure is more similar to chicken than other turtles. We provide a series of comparative analyses demonstrating (1) that turtles are among the slowest-evolving genome-enabled reptiles, (2) amino acid changes in genes controlling desert tortoise traits such as shell development, longevity and osmoregulation, and (3) fixed variants across the Gopherus species complex in genes related to desert adaptations, including circadian rhythm and innate immune response. This G. agassizii genome reference and annotation is the first such resource for any tortoise, and will serve as a foundation for future analysis of the genetic basis of adaptations to the desert environment, allow for investigation into genomic factors affecting tortoise health, disease and longevity, and serve as a valuable resource for additional studies in this species complex.
Project description:The analysis of blood constituents is a widely used tool to aid in monitoring of animal health and disease. However, classic blood diagnostics (i.e. hematologic and plasma biochemical values) often do not provide sufficient information to determine the state of an animal's health. Field studies on wild tortoises and other reptiles have had limited success in drawing significant inferences between blood diagnostics and physiological and immunological condition. However, recent research using gene transcription profiling in the threatened Mojave desert tortoise (<i>Gopherus agassizii</i>) has proved useful in identifying immune or physiologic responses and overall health. To improve our understanding of health and immune function in tortoises, we evaluated both standard blood diagnostic (body condition, hematologic, plasma biochemistry values, trace elements, plasma proteins, vitamin A levels) and gene transcription profiles in 21 adult tortoises (11 clinically abnormal; 10 clinically normal) from Clark County, NV, USA. Necropsy and histology evaluations from clinically abnormal tortoises revealed multiple physiological complications, with moderate to severe rhinitis or pneumonia being the primary cause of morbidity in all but one of the examined animals. Clinically abnormal tortoises had increased transcription for four genes (SOD, MyD88, CL and Lep), increased lymphocyte production, biochemical enzymes and organics, trace elements of copper, and decreased numbers of leukocytes. We found significant positive correlations between increased transcription for SOD and increased trace elements for copper, as well as genes MyD88 and Lep with increased inflammation and microbial insults. Improved methods for health assessments are an important element of monitoring tortoise population recovery and can support the development of more robust diagnostic measures for ill animals, or individuals directly impacted by disturbance.
Project description:In disease ecology, the host immune system interacts with environmental conditions and pathogen properties to affect the impact of disease on the host. Within the host, pathogens may interact to facilitate or inhibit each other's growth, and pathogens interact with different hosts differently. We investigated co-infection of two Mycoplasma and the association of infection with clinical signs of upper respiratory tract disease in four congeneric tortoise host species (Gopherus) in the United States to detect differences in infection risk and disease dynamics in these hosts. Mojave Desert tortoises had greater prevalence of Mycoplasma agassizii than Texas tortoises and gopher tortoises, while there were no differences in Mycoplasma testudineum prevalence among host species. In some host species, the presence of each pathogen influenced the infection intensity of the other; hence, these two mycoplasmas interact differently within different hosts, and our results may indicate facilitation of these bacteria. Neither infection nor co-infection was associated with clinical signs of disease, which tend to fluctuate across time. From M. agassizii DNA sequences, we detected no meaningful differentiation of haplotypes among hosts. Experimental inoculation studies and recurrent resampling of wild individuals could help to decipher the underlying mechanisms of disease dynamics in this system.
Project description:Immune function plays an important role in an animal's defense against infectious disease. In reptiles, immune responses may be complex and counterintuitive, and diagnostic tools used to identify infection, such as induced antibody responses are limited. Recent studies using gene transcription profiling in tortoises have proven useful in identifying immune responses to various intrinsic and extrinsic stressors. As part of a larger experiment with Mojave desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii), we facilitated the transmission of the pathogenic bacteria, Mycoplasma agassizii (Myag), to naïve adults and measured innate and induced immune reactions over time. Specifically, we evaluated clinical condition, presence of Myag in the nasal/oral cavity, induced antibody responses specific to Myag, and measured molecular reactions (gene transcript profiles) in 15 captive tortoises classified as naïve, exposed, or infected and 14 wild tortoises for comparison. Myag was confirmed inside the nasal/oral cavity in exposed tortoises within 30-60 days of introduction to infected animals, yet we did not detect Myag specific induced antibody responses in these individuals until 420-595 days post exposure. Surprisingly, we found no overall differences in the gene transcript profiles between our experimental treatment groups throughout this study. This work highlights the complexities in assessing immune function and diagnosing pathogen related infections in tortoises and other reptiles.