Whole-genome sequencing approaches for conservation biology: Advantages, limitations and practical recommendations

Mol Ecol. 2017 Oct;26(20):5369-5406. doi: 10.1111/mec.14264. Epub 2017 Sep 5.


Whole-genome resequencing (WGR) is a powerful method for addressing fundamental evolutionary biology questions that have not been fully resolved using traditional methods. WGR includes four approaches: the sequencing of individuals to a high depth of coverage with either unresolved or resolved haplotypes, the sequencing of population genomes to a high depth by mixing equimolar amounts of unlabelled-individual DNA (Pool-seq) and the sequencing of multiple individuals from a population to a low depth (lcWGR). These techniques require the availability of a reference genome. This, along with the still high cost of shotgun sequencing and the large demand for computing resources and storage, has limited their implementation in nonmodel species with scarce genomic resources and in fields such as conservation biology. Our goal here is to describe the various WGR methods, their pros and cons and potential applications in conservation biology. WGR offers an unprecedented marker density and surveys a wide diversity of genetic variations not limited to single nucleotide polymorphisms (e.g., structural variants and mutations in regulatory elements), increasing their power for the detection of signatures of selection and local adaptation as well as for the identification of the genetic basis of phenotypic traits and diseases. Currently, though, no single WGR approach fulfils all requirements of conservation genetics, and each method has its own limitations and sources of potential bias. We discuss proposed ways to minimize such biases. We envision a not distant future where the analysis of whole genomes becomes a routine task in many nonmodel species and fields including conservation biology.

Keywords: Pool-seq; conservation biology; low-coverage sequencing; management; population genomics; whole-genome sequencing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genomic Library
  • Genomics / methods*
  • Genotype
  • Haplotypes
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Population Density
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods