Integrative zoology

High genetic diversity in the endangered and narrowly distributed amphibian species Leptobrachium leishanense.

PMID 26037662


Threatened species typically have a small or declining population size, which make them highly susceptible to loss of genetic diversity through genetic drift and inbreeding. Genetic diversity determines the evolutionary potential of a species; therefore, maintaining the genetic diversity of threatened species is essential for their conservation. In this study, we assessed the genetic diversity of the adaptive major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes in an endangered and narrowly distributed amphibian species, Leptobrachium leishanense in Southwest China. We compared the genetic variation of MHC class I genes with that observed in neutral markers (5 microsatellite loci and cytochrome b gene) to elucidate the relative roles of genetic drift and natural selection in shaping the current MHC polymorphism in this species. We found a high level of genetic diversity in this population at both MHC and neutral markers compared with other threatened amphibian species. Historical positive selection was evident in the MHC class I genes. The higher allelic richness in MHC markers compared with that of microsatellite loci suggests that selection rather than genetic drift plays a prominent role in shaping the MHC variation pattern, as drift can affect all the genome in a similar way but selection directly targets MHC genes. Although demographic analysis revealed no recent bottleneck events in L. leishanense, additional population decline will accelerate the dangerous status for this species. We suggest that the conservation management of L. leishanense should concentrate on maximizing the retention of genetic diversity through preventing their continuous population decline. Protecting their living habitats and forbidding illegal hunting are the most important measures for conservation of L. leishanense.