- Reviewing EditorGeorge PerryPennsylvania State University, United States of America
- Senior EditorGeorge PerryPennsylvania State University, United States of America
Reviewer #1 (Public Review):
The authors report a study, where they have sequenced whole genomes of four individuals of an extinct species of butterfly from western North America (Glaucopsyche xerces), along with seven genomes of a closely related species (Glaucopsyche lygdamus), mainly from museum specimens, several to many decades old. They then compare these fragmented genomes to a high-quality, chromosome-level assembly of a genome of a European species in the same genus (Glaucopsyche alexis). They find that the extinct species shows clear signs of declining population sizes since the last glacial period and an increase in inbreeding, perhaps exacerbating the low viability of the populations and contributing to the extinction of the species.
The study really highlights how museum specimens can be used to understand the genetic variability of populations and species in the past, up to a century or more ago. This is an incredibly valuable tool, and can potentially help us to quickly identify whether current populations of rare and declining species are in danger due to inbreeding, or whether at least their genetic integrity is in good condition and other factors need to be prioritised in their conservation. In the case of extinct species, sequencing museum specimens is really our only window into the dynamics of genomic variability prior to extinction, and such information can help us understand how genetic variation is related to extinction.
I think the authors have achieved their goal admirably, they have used a careful approach to mapping their genomic reads to a related species with a high-quality genome assembly. They might miss out on some interesting genetic information in the unmapped reads, but by and large, they have captured the essential information on genetic variability within their mapped reads. Their conclusions on the lower genetic variability in the extinct species are sound, and they convincingly show that Glaucopyche xerces is a separate species to Glaucopsyche lygdamus (this has been debated in the past).
Reviewer #2 (Public Review):
The Xerces Blue is an iconic species, now extinct, that is a symbol for invertebrate conservation. Using genomic sequencing of century-old specimens of the Xerces Blue and its closest living relatives, the authors hypothesize about possible genetic indicators of the species' demise. Although the limited range and habitat destruction are the most likely culprits, it is possible that some natural reasons have been brewing to bring this species closer to extinction.
The importance of this study is in its generality and applicability to any other invertebrate species. The authors find that low effective population size, high inbreeding (for tens of thousands of years), and higher fraction of deleterious alleles characterize the Xerces colonies prior to extinction. These signatures can be captured from comparative genomic analysis of any target species to evaluate its population health.
It should be noted that it remains unclear if these genomic signatures are indeed predictive of extinction, or populations can bounce back given certain conditions and increase their genetic diversity somehow.
Methods are detailed and explained well, and the study could be replicated. I think this is a solid piece of work. Interested researchers can apply these methods to their chosen species and eventually, we will assemble datasets to study extinction process in many species to learn some general rules.