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Peart, Claire R.; Tusso, Sergio; Pophaly, Saurabh D.; Botero-Castro, Fidel; Wu, Chi-Chih; Aurioles-Gamboa, David; Baird, Amy B.; Bickham, John W.; Forcada, Jaume; Galimberti, Filippo; Gemmell, Neil J.; Hoffman, Joseph; Kovacs, Kit M.; Kunnasranta, Mervi; Lydersen, Christian; Nyman, Tommi; de Oliveira, Larissa Rosa; Orr, Anthony J.; Sanvito, Simona; Valtonen, Mia; Shafer, Aaron B. A. and Wolf, Jochen B. W. (2020): Determinants of genetic variation across eco-evolutionary scales in pinnipeds. In: Nature Ecology & Evolution, Vol. 4, No. 8: pp. 1095-1104

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The effective size of a population (N-e), which determines its level of neutral variability, is a key evolutionary parameter. N-e can substantially depart from census sizes of present-day breeding populations (N-C) as a result of past demographic changes, variation in life-history traits and selection at linked sites. Using genome-wide data we estimated the long-term coalescent N-e for 17 pinniped species represented by 36 population samples (total n = 458 individuals). N-e estimates ranged from 8,936 to 91,178, were highly consistent within (sub)species and showed a strong positive correlation with N-C (R-adj(2) = 0.59;P = 0.0002). N-e/N-C ratios were low (mean, 0.31;median, 0.13) and co-varied strongly with demographic history and, to a lesser degree, with species' ecological and life-history variables such as breeding habitat. Residual variation in N-e/N-C, after controlling for past demographic fluctuations, contained information about recent population size changes during the Anthropocene. Specifically, species of conservation concern typically had positive residuals indicative of a smaller contemporary N-C than would be expected from their long-term N-e. This study highlights the value of comparative population genomic analyses for gauging the evolutionary processes governing genetic variation in natural populations, and provides a framework for identifying populations deserving closer conservation attention.

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