A Chromosome-Length Assembly of the Hawaiian Monk Seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi): A History of "Genetic Purging" and Genomic Stability

David W. Mohr, Stephen J. Gaughran, Justin Paschall, Ahmed Naguib, Andy Wing Chun Pang, Olga Dudchenko, Erez Lieberman Aiden, Deanna M. Church, Alan F. Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Hawaiian monk seal (HMS) is the single extant species of tropical earless seals of the genus Neomonachus. The species survived a severe bottleneck in the late 19th century and experienced subsequent population declines until becoming the subject of a NOAA-led species recovery effort beginning in 1976 when the population was fewer than 1000 animals. Like other recovering species, the Hawaiian monk seal has been reported to have reduced genetic heterogeneity due to the bottleneck and subsequent inbreeding. Here, we report a chromosomal reference assembly for a male animal produced using a variety of methods. The final assembly consisted of 16 autosomes, an X, and portions of the Y chromosomes. We compared variants in this animal to other HMS and to a frequently sequenced human sample, confirming about 12% of the variation seen in man. To confirm that the reference animal was representative of the HMS, we compared his sequence to that of 10 other individuals and noted similarly low variation in all. Variation in the major histocompatibility (MHC) genes was nearly absent compared to the orthologous human loci. Demographic analysis predicts that Hawaiian monk seals have had a long history of small populations preceding the bottleneck, and their current low levels of heterozygosity may indicate specialization to a stable environment. When we compared our reference assembly to that of other species, we observed significant conservation of chromosomal architecture with other pinnipeds, especially other phocids. This reference should be a useful tool for future evolutionary studies as well as the long-term management of this species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1270
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2022


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