Landscape Genomics of a Widely Distributed Snake, Dolichophis caspius (Gmelin, 1789) across Eastern Europe and Western Asia

Genes (Basel). 2020 Oct 17;11(10):E1218. doi: 10.3390/genes11101218.


Across the distribution of the Caspian whipsnake (Dolichophis caspius), populations have become increasingly disconnected due to habitat alteration. To understand population dynamics and this widespread but locally endangered snake's adaptive potential, we investigated population structure, admixture, and effective migration patterns. We took a landscape-genomic approach to identify selected genotypes associated with environmental variables relevant to D. caspius. With double-digest restriction-site associated DNA (ddRAD) sequencing of 53 samples resulting in 17,518 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), we identified 8 clusters within D. caspius reflecting complex evolutionary patterns of the species. Estimated Effective Migration Surfaces (EEMS) revealed higher-than-average gene flow in most of the Balkan Peninsula and lower-than-average gene flow along the middle section of the Danube River. Landscape genomic analysis identified 751 selected genotypes correlated with 7 climatic variables. Isothermality correlated with the highest number of selected genotypes (478) located in 41 genes, followed by annual range (127) and annual mean temperature (87). We conclude that environmental variables, especially the day-to-night temperature oscillation in comparison to the summer-to-winter oscillation, may have an important role in the distribution and adaptation of D. caspius.

Keywords: Caspian whipsnake; adaptive evolution; ddRAD; environmental correlates; genetic diversity.