A high genetic load can negatively affect population viability and increase susceptibility to diseases and other environmental stressors. Prior microsatellite studies of two African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) populations in South Africa indicated substantial genome-wide genetic load due to high-frequency occurrence of deleterious alleles. The occurrence of these alleles, which negatively affect male body condition and bovine tuberculosis resistance, throughout most of the buffalo's range were evaluated in this study. Using available microsatellite data (2-17 microsatellite loci) for 1676 animals from 34 localities (from 25°S to 5°N), we uncovered continent-wide frequency clines of microsatellite alleles associated with the aforementioned male traits. Frequencies decreased over a south-to-north latitude range (average per-locus Pearson r = -0.22). The frequency clines coincided with a multilocus-heterozygosity cline (adjusted R2 = 0.84), showing up to a 16% decrease in southern Africa compared to East Africa. Furthermore, continent-wide linkage disequilibrium (LD) at five linked locus pairs was detected, characterized by a high fraction of positive interlocus associations (0.66, 95% CI: 0.53, 0.77) between male-deleterious-trait-associated alleles. Our findings suggest continent-wide and genome-wide selection of male-deleterious alleles driven by an earlier observed sex-chromosomal meiotic drive system, resulting in frequency clines, reduced heterozygosity due to hitchhiking effects and extensive LD due to male-deleterious alleles co-occurring in haplotypes. The selection pressures involved must be high to prevent destruction of allele-frequency clines and haplotypes by LD decay. Since most buffalo populations are stable, these results indicate that natural mammal populations, depending on their genetic background, can withstand a high genetic load.
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van Hooft, P. (Creator), Getz, W. (Creator), Greyling, B. (Creator), Heller, R. (Creator), Røed, K. (Creator) & Bastos, A. (Creator), Wageningen University & Research, 7 Nov 2020